Question: Hello. I just purchased an 11 yr old 16.1 hh TB brood mare who is very skinny and lost her foal to Placenta Previa about 8 days ago. She was a race horse as well. The man I purchased her from said she was abandoned and took her in and only had her for 4 weeks. He said she has been fed hay most all her life.
I don’t want her to colic and I want her to put weight on. I eventually want her to be in the pasture full-time, but don’t know how to wean her into pasture without her getting colic. Right now I feed her a flake of alfalfa hay in the morning, let her out for about 2 hrs in the afternoon to graze, then another flake of hay early evening, then 5 scoops of senior equine with 2 scoops of wheat bran at night. Is this nearly enough??? I would prefer her to graze more than to get more hay, but I am in fear of her getting colic. Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated! Thank you so much.
Answer from April Reeves: Putting weight on your mare is going to be a slow process. Depending upon her history of neglect, many mares never get good weight back. Once a horse is very thin, it’s a tough road to get back the weight, as much of it is muscle, and severe or prolonged starvation and depleted feeds can waste muscle tissue.
You are wise to be wary of grass. The grass we have today is quite different from the grass 50 years ago. The dairy and beef industries slowly changed it, and today most grass is so full of ‘fructan’ (plant sugar) that horses are unable to digest it (horses are missing the amount of amylase – a digestive enzyme needed to digest higher levels of fructans).
In the daytime, sugars run at higher levels in grass. If I were you, I would put her out just at dusk for a few hours and bring her in for the night. Sugars run high in the hot sun or early frost, so try to avoid this. Colic is only one thing that would concern me. I’m more interested in laminitis that could build up in her feet.
I’m not comfortable with a senior feed for an 11 year old. I would put her on an extruded feed. They have a higher digestibility than other processed feeds and encourage a horse to chew more. Feed your concentrates by themselves – without hay on an empty stomach (1/2 to 1 hour from last feeding). Stay away from pellets and sweet feeds, corn barley, rice bran and really leafy green second or third cut hay. Try to find a first cut hay that has a bit heavier stalk and seed heads, with 50-65% green matter. I use second or third cut as a supplement, as you are doing with your one flake of alfalfa, which I do also with all my horses. Don’t be fooled by soft leafy green hay. The coarser, less green hay can be rich in fibre, which your mare needs to help keep her system functioning properly. And fiber = energy. Keep the bran, no more than 2 cups per day, split between morning and evening feeds. Wheat bran is high in insoluble fibre and protein, and has a bit of fat. Horses easily digest the fibre, so it is not to be considered a laxative for a horse. It also has high levels of B vitamins and folic acid, plus zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Any more than 2 cups and your phosphorus levels could get too high.
With the extruded feed, gradually change over within 10 days. She can go up to 4 cups 3 times a day. Read the bag as not all extrudeds are the same.
Beet pulp is another feed with a good fiber content, around 10% protein, and easily digestible. Soak about 2 hours; 2 parts water, one part beet pulp pellets.
Avoid all oils, including corn, vegetable, or any other cheap oil. Horses are super-vegans and are the only mammal that has NO gallbladder, so they have problems digesting almost any quantity of oil. The only oil they can process with any luck is the oil in flax, but keep that to a minimum also.
Feed her on the ground, not up higher. She needs her head down to align her jaw properly to chew, and create saliva.
Add your pasture hours slowly, and if you can, put her out only in the night. Slowly increase the amount of time she is out, and watch her feet (feel for heat, softness in the sole or soreness – signs of laminitis). I would increase the time by 10 minutes per day until you build up her time to the evenings she is out. Horses need time to adjust to changes in feeding.