Your older horse lost weight over the winter. Your competitive horse had a long season … and looks it. Or maybe a severe illness caused your pleasure horse to drop more than 100 pounds.

You want to put that weight back on and restore your horse’s bloom. It should be pretty easy right? Just increase the calories, and your horse will return to his former fit and healthy self. However, it’s not just the amount of calories, but the right calories, and feeding them wisely, that will promote weight gain and condition, Eastern Hay and Grain cautions.

The best way to start is by increasing the most important component of your horse’s diet: his ration of good-quality forage. Get the best hay you can to provide the best nutrition, and provide free-choice hay so he can eat as much as he wants.

Keep in mind that different hays provide different caloric content. Timothy provides about 804 calories per pound, while orchardgrass has about 872 and alfalfa delivers a caloric punch of 977 calories per pound, so there is a significant range of calories between types of hay. Gradually switching to a good-quality alfalfa will go a long way towards helping your horse regain weight.

If hay alone isn’t doing the job, you might need to increase your horse’s grain or concentrate ration. This also must be done slowly and carefully in order for the digestive tract to adapt. Concentrates must be specifically chosen according to the type and amount of work the horse is getting—a high-performance horse and a pleasure mount require very different grains and amounts.

Avoid feeding more than five or six pounds of grain per meal to an average 1,000-pound horse. If your horse requires additional grain, break the full amount into multiple smaller meals fed throughout the day. Or, consider switching to a higher-calorie feed. The difference in caloric content can be marked. For example, some competition feeds can provide 50% more calories per pound than feeding straight oats.

Of course, it’s not just the weight gain you want to achieve. Along with that you want the bloom and good muscular structure of a healthy athlete. Ensure your horse is consuming adequate amounts of quality protein, vitamins and minerals, and the correct fatty acid profile; consult an equine nutritionist or veterinarian if you’re unsure whether your horse needs a supplement to achieve a balanced diet.

Proceed slowly and carefully, monitor weight gain, and feed the right forage and concentrates for your horse, and soon your horse will be back to his healthy, shiny self.