Feeding the Good Doer
A ‘good doer’ is a term that best describes a horse or pony that maintains or gains weight easily and is mostly commonly linked with warmbloods, ponies and native breeds. But this is subjective and horses or ponies are individuals and can gain extra weight if nutrition isn’t managed correctly.
The highest population of overweight equines are the leisure horses and the number seems to be increasing every year. The more overweight your horse or pony is, there is a higher risk in contributing to health conditions such as; laminitis, cushing’s, respiratory struggles, decreased energy levels, struggles in hot weather and osteoarthritis.
What can I do nutritionally for my good doer?
• Unlike humans who are able to starve themselves, the horse’s digestive system will not cope with an empty stomach. Equines need a constant fill of fibre/forage to buffer the acid that is continuously made in the stomach. Providing ad-lib forage is normally the golden rule when feeding our horses and ponies, but even hay/haylage contains calories. Owners may need to reduce the amount of forage. If you want to stop your horse from ‘hoovering’ feed up too quickly and left with nothing for a period of time, we would encourage a small holed haynet. This will help to slow them down and last longer. Also soaking hay up to 12 hours or more reduces the sugar content.
• Keep track of your horse or ponies condition score – this will help to monitor any changes you do.
• Provide a balanced diet – although a forage only based diet can easily meet the calories needed, alone, this will not give everything nutritionally your equines need. A balancer is a good option to provide good quality protein and amino acids (lysine- which is low in hay/haylage), as well as vitamins and minerals to go alongside a forage based diet.
• Check the amount you are feeding and don’t increase your feed in an effort to increase their energy levels. You will actually be increasing their calories which are what we are trying to lower.
• Try not to feed mixes and cereal based feeds that are high in calories. Owners can bulk out their feed with low calorie chaffs or fibre feeds, which will contribute to a longer eating time. Speedi-Beet is a starch free, low sugar, beet pulp soaking feed that has a high proportion of soluble fibre, mostly pectins. This means its fibre is more easily digested than that found in forage. This makes it a great source of non-heating slow release energy, ideal for good doers.
• Regular exercise will help to expand energy and help with fitness – start slow and build up.
• A little bit of tough love – be hesitant when it starts to get a little cooler and you are thinking about putting a rug on your horse or pony. Not rugging up straight away will make them use their energy reserves to keep warm.
What about grazing?
Horses and ponies mainly spend most of their time out on pasture and grass is normally their main source of forage.
Strip grazing is useful to protect your fields and promote healthy grass growth, but also helps manage your horses grass intake. This is better practice instead of limiting their time in the field – this actually encourages your equines when they have their opportunity in the field, they will gorge and take in as much grass as they possibly can.
If you are fortunate and your paddocks are extremely lush, turning out in ménages with hay is another useful idea. It still gets them out of the stable and you can monitor better the amount they are eating.
A grazing muzzle is definitely a helpful tool in slowing down eating. Studies have shown it can reduce intake by up to 60-80%.
During the different stages of the day when grass grows, the levels or fructans differ. Avoid mid-morning turnout or if possible, turnout at night which is likely when the lowest amount is produced.
Consult your vet for veterinary advice & contact the British Horse Feeds team for feed advice.
Read more about our feeds here.