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We get asked this question a lot, because horses who come into our care cease to have any problems keeping weight on, usually within about 3 months time. So I’m going to share the program!  This is for horses who don’t look great.  It is not for severely emaciated horses. If you get a SEVERELY emaciated horse in – they look like this – then you follow UC-Davis’s Refeeding Plan.

Before picture of Grace - August 2010

Before picture of Grace – August 2010


The plan was followed perfectly with Grace by her rescue, Strawberry Mountain Mustangs, (the pan you see is soaked alfalfa pellets, which we generally substitute for hay in starved horse cases) and this is how she looked just three months later.


Fat Grace - just three months later!

Fat Grace – just three months later!

But most of you don’t have a “Grace.”  What you have is one polo pony in an otherwise good looking string that looks like hell.  Or a new OTTB that just will…not…gain.  Or an elderly horse you picked up from a less than great home that doesn’t seem to be responding to your feeding program.  So here is what does work!

Phase One (works on 90% of horses)

1.  Float the teeth

2.  Feed quality hay 3x a day.  Anywhere between 3 and 6 flakes depending upon the size of the horse and the size of the flakes. If they are finishing a meal faster than an hour, they probably did not get enough to eat.  Feeding lunch helps a lot.  You must feed a skinny horse separately – they aren’t going to gain if they’re being chased off of food.  If teeth are bad, or missing, you can substitute hay with hay pellets, well soaked.

3. Twice a day make this up for them:

1-2 scoops (a “scoop” is a typical three quart plastic scoop from the feed store) alfalfa pellets – substitute low carb orchard  grass or timothy pellets if the horse has a founder history or Cushing’s.

1 quart Triple Crown Senior.  TC is the best – it’s low NSC.   Low NSC feeds help prevent metabolic issues, plus encourage healthy hooves.

1 measure of a daily dewormer like Strongid C.   You will hear 10,000 different opinions about deworming and you will hear that daily dewormers are bad. I only use it for the first month. I love the stuff, especially if the horse hasn’t been dewormed in a long time – it’s mild yet thorough. No, it won’t get every worm on earth (see Phase Two).

1/4 cup of psyllium.  If you can get plain old psyllium, it is a whole lot cheaper than commercial sand remedies.

Measure of a probiotic supplement.  We use Probios.

You can add a quart of rice bran or a splash of flax seed oil or cocosoya oil if you want a shiny coat  🙂  We do!

SOAK THE HECK OUT OF THE ABOVE.  You want it the consistency of sloppy oatmeal.

None of the things I just listed are optional. Put them all in there. You are cleaning the horse’s gut out of sand, worms, and ensuring it starts functioning at peak efficiency.

4.  Stop working the horse.  Horses are just like people – if you are burning off the calories you eat, you won’t gain weight.  A thin horse needs to be at rest.  You can pony him a little at the walk & trot if you don’t have access to turnout, but don’t make him sweat, and stay off his back.  It is simply not true that your horse looks like crap because of a lack of muscle. Your horse will look better with muscle after he has proper weight on. If he’s 200 pounds underweight, work is not going to help him. It’s just going to prevent him from gaining.  Lay him off.

You should see very noticeable improvement within 60 days. If you don’t, it’s time to move to Phase Two

Phase Two (works on all horses except the horses the vet finds have cancer or some other physical reason for not gaining weight)

1. Keep doing everything you were doing in Phase One.

2. Give the horse a Panacur Power Pac course of dewormers.  Two months later, hit him with a Zimecterin Gold to get tapeworms.  Buy the multi pack and treat your whole string/all your horses with ZG because it’s the only thing other than Qwest that gets tapeworms, and I personally know someone who lost a horse to tapeworms.  It’s sadly not that unusual!  The reason I say ZG instead of Qwest is that a lot of people seem to have problems with horses having bad reactions to Qwest.

3.  Call the vet and run a basic blood panel (CBC) to see if you have a thyroid problem or other issue preventing weight gain.  While you are at it, do an overall check for pain.  Many horses in chronic pain won’t look good, no matter what you feed. If you cannot resolve the pain and make the horse happy to be alive, it is probably time to say goodbye humanely.

4. Treat the horse with a course of Abprazole to resolve possible ulcer issues.  Sure, you can have a horse scoped. But by the time you pay for that, you could have bought the Abprazole, and Abprazole won’t hurt a horse that doesn’t have ulcers.  So it’s your call.  Some signs of ulcers are: poor appetite, dull coat, poor performance, loose stools, “girthy,” sensitivity to being brushed on the belly or flanks, cranky disposition and chronic mild colic-y symptoms.

A list of things you should not, under any circumstances, do:

1.  Feed sweet feed.   Sweet feed includes wet COB, “all stock” feeds, Omolene, etc.  In general, if it is cheap, it is probably not good for your horse.

Courtesy of Laura Holmes. We couldn't agree more!

Courtesy of Laura Holmes. We couldn’t agree more!

2.  Feed corn or corn oil.  I know this was the historic wisdom but research has shown that corn is not a good thing for horses (or dogs, or cats).  We have better oils now (cocosoya, flax).

3.  Buy low quality hay and think you’ll make up for it with grain. This is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing.  Hay should be as high quality as possible and generously fed.  You may find you don’t need any supplemental feed when you up your hay quality.

4.  Throw a skinny horse out on the lushest grass pasture you can find.   You can kill them by doing this.  Instead, introduce grass slowly – let them out for 15 minutes, bring them back in, let them out for 30 minutes the next day, 45 the next, and keep going until they are out 24/7.   Sure it’s a pain.  Laminitis is a much bigger pain!


This horse was in his late 20's when we rescued him.

This horse was in his late 20’s when we rescued him.

Bottom line, the only reason a horse won’t put weight on, properly fed, is that he’s suffering from something serious, like cancer, or he has some other disease that has thrown everything out of whack.

The program I just described costs me approximately $175 per horse per month to implement, in Los Angeles.   Odds are, wherever you live, it is even cheaper.  This doesn’t break the bank – it works and it is affordable.   Give it a shot, and send us your before and after pictures – we’d love to see them!