My two mares have middle-of-the-road metabolisms. They are not easy keepers, but they maintain good body condition with quality hay and grain. My Tucson horse boarding facility recently welcomed a new boarder who definitely falls into the easy keeper category, so his owner and I are coming up with a nutrition plan that will help him lose the extra weight while getting fit and healthy.
Feeding any easy keeper is very different than feeding a hard keeper. If you have an easy keeper, these tips will help your horse lose the extra weight while meeting his protein, mineral, and vitamin requirements for optimal health.
Just like people, the foundation for horses losing weight starts with exercise. If your horse has been sedentary, you want to start slow and gradually increase his activity level.
Use a riding journal to track your progress (See How to Achieve Your Goals with a Riding Journal). Wear a fitness watch to track your time in the saddle and the distance covered. I like the Fitbit Versa because I can play music while I ride and track my progress without carrying my smartphone. Buy it here.
For your first sessions, work your horse at the walk. Your horse should not plod around the arena or down the trail. He needs to move out at a good working walk, with his head down and his back lifted. Work on skills that challenge his mind and his body. Teach him haunch and forehand turns; leg yield and half-pass; haunches-in, haunches-out, shoulder-in and shoulder-out. Make him step and sidepass over poles or natural trail obstacles. Walk him up and down hills.
Challenge yourself to ride at least five days a week. Riding only once or twice a week is not enough to improve your horse’s fitness.
Each week, increase the distance that you ride or the speed that you ride at, but not both. So, if the first week you rode at the walk for half an hour each session, the second week you can either ride at the walk for 45 minutes or you can walk and trot for half an hour. Increasing time at a walk and trot will burn more calories than increasing speed to a canter and gallop.
Eliminate Concentrates and Supplements
Your easy keeper does not need high-calorie concentrates or high-fat supplements. These will make him gain more weight rather than maintaining a healthy condition. Eliminate these from his diet. Because we live in a sandy area, each horse gets Sand Clear (buy it here) for the first seven days of each month. The easy keepers get a cup of oats once a day with the Sand Clear during that time, but no other grain during the month.
If your easy keeper needs other supplements, such as for joints, consider buying it in pelleted form so you can feed it without additional grain, or mix it in a very small amount of oats. (See Does My Horse Need a Joint Supplement? And Why Your Current Joint Supplement Isn’t Working).
A dry lot is the ideal housing for the easy keeper. This allows him to consistently move around, burning more calories, without spending his day grazing on pasture. If the only turnout option is pasture, limit his grazing to four hours a day maximum or use a grazing muzzle. Low-quality pasture is better for your easy keeper than rich, irrigated grass.
In the wild, a horse grazes all day on low-quality forage, providing his digestive system with steady intake. To lose weight, your easy keeper needs to eat one to 1.5 percent of his ideal body weight per day in hay. Feed several small feedings per day, rather than two larger feedings, to prevent gastric ulcers.
Another option is to use a slow feeder like those from High Country Plastics (buy it here) or a hay net (buy it here).
Choose grass hay over legumes such as alfalfa.
Be sure that your easy keeper always has access to salt and clean water.
To make sure that your easy keeper is making progress towards reaching his ideal body weight, regularly monitor and record your progress. Measure your horse’s weight using a weight tape each week and take an updated picture. Week to week you may not see much change, but over time your easy keeper will change into a fit and healthy horse, and you will have a record to show how far you’ve come.
What are your tips for feeding an easy keeper? Let me know in the comments below!
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Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.