California Riding Magazine • September, 2013

Ask the Vet:
Easy Keeper Developing Bad Habits

by Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA

I have a 6 yr Morgan horse who is a very easy keeper. She is currently getting 1 lb ration balancer and 12 lbs grass hay and 2 lbs Alfalfa cubes a day total - broken down into 3 feedings. Her hay is fed in small mesh hay nets to help it last longer, but she has started digging holes to chew on tree roots. She is on Recovery EQ and Quitt. Any suggestions on what to do or is normal behavior? Tabatha

Dear Tabatha,

I feel your pain! Here you are trying to do the right thing and your mare is not participating in the program. Couple of suggestions for you:

  1. Omit the 2lbs alfalfa cubes. Alfalfa typically provides more calories than grass so she probably doesn’t need this particular feed.
  2. Feed the right amount of forage. How much does your horse weigh? If she weighs 800 pounds, then the 12 pounds of grass hay you’re feeding her per day is 1.5% of her body weight. If she weighs 900 or 1000 pounds, then she’s receiving closer to 1% of her body weight. This may simply not be enough long-stem forage and therefore chew time for her. Try gradually increasing her hay to 15lbs or more and see if her behavior quits yet she does not gain weight.
  3. Soak hay to reduce the NSC content. Since you’re already putting her hay in the small hole hay net, soaking in a clean muck basket would be really easy! Sugars and starches but not important nutrients are removed in just 30 minutes of warm water soaking or 60 minutes of cold water soaking.
  4. Add a grazing muzzle. I’ve had great success with putting grazing muzzles on horses to slow down their rate of hay consumption. I know they’re designed for grass pastures, but they also work well in situations like yours where the small hole hay net doesn’t keep her from finishing her hay too early.
  5. Include a supplement targeted to support metabolism. Ingredients like chromium, magnesium, taurine, biotin, cinnamon, fenugreek, and other herbs—including adaptogencs—help some horses lose their ravenous appetite.
In addition to these diet recommendations, I have two more ideas for you: provide at least 30 minutes of controlled exercise each day, not just turnout, and consider adding stall toys or another distraction to her environment. Hopefully something here will help your mare cope with her diet restrictions that are necessary to her overall health and soundness!

Article provided by SmartPak.
Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak, where she guides research and new product development, answers questions on her Ask the Vet blog, and speaks around the country at various events such as Equine Affaire, Dressage at Devon, and the USHJA Trainers’ Symposiums.