Feeding to Achieve a Moderate Body Condition

Every horseperson has seen the telltale signs of a thin horse: the disproportionately skinny neck, the protruding spine, the row of ribs, and the jutting hipbones. Thanks in part to advances made in feeding management, veterinary care, parasite control, and dentistry, educated caretakers can fatten horses safely and easily. But when is it time to switch from a “weight-gain” diet to a “maintenance”
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Every horseperson has seen the telltale signs of a thin horse: the disproportionately skinny neck, the protruding spine, the row of ribs, and the jutting hipbones. Thanks in part to advances made in feeding management, veterinary care, parasite control, and dentistry, educated caretakers can fatten horses safely and easily. But when is it time to switch from a "weight-gain" diet to a "maintenance" diet, and how can the diet be altered in the safest way possible for the horse?

Most equine veterinarians and nutritionists use a body condition scorecard to determine a horse's need to lose or gain weight. Scores range from 1 to 9, with 1 denoting extreme emaciation and 9 signifying obesity. Most healthy horses have body condition scores between 4 and 6. This is not to say, however, that healthy horses cannot be thinner or heavier, and certain life stages (e.g., a lactating mare with higher energy requirements) might prompt scores outside this range.

Examples of horses that are typically thinner than ideal include athletes that are frequently asked to perform strenuous exercise, aged broodmares in the first two to four months of lactation, and horses recovering from illness. In these cases the horses are incapable of consuming sufficient calories to fuel both weight gain and work, regardless of whether the work involved is actual performance, growth, lactation, or tissue repair. Yet once the workload is reduced (less strenuous exercise or weaning of a foal, for example), weight gain can be accomplished.

A body condition score of around 5 seems to be most appropriate for the majority of horses: sufficient fat cover so that ribs cannot be seen but can be felt, with no excessive fat deposition around the shoulders, over the withers and topline, or around the top of the tail

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