My older Paso Fino gelding is losing weight trying to protect a mini mare.

Paso Fino horseQuestion: I have a 20-year old paso fino gelding who looked like a 3-year old, great muscle-tone, he had the perfect weight, et cetera. We also have a miniature mare who he despised until we brought home a paint draft gelding and a pony stallion. Now, Arthur (the paso fino) won’t leave the mini’s side and is stressing himself out over trying to take care of her and keep her from the stallion. He’s lost weight and the vet said to increase his weight to a bucket and a half (hand-held feeders) of grain plus a cup of oats per feeding twice a day. He’s still not gaining any weight, so we upped his weight to 2 buckets of grain and a cupful of oats. Tomorrow we’ll be getting sweet feed for him to see if it bulks up his diet, but his weight just isn’t improving. Are there any supplements you’d suggest?

Answer from April Reeves: Your gelding was the herd leader of his herd of 2 (he and the mini) but when you brought in two others, his natural instincts went from leader to protector. He’s just doing his job.

In this situation you will have to decide whether to fix the problem (separate Arthur and the mini) or change his diet.

I do not like to increase grain to a horse who uses his energy on nervous motion (stress). Lets take a look at the grains Arthur is eating.

I like oats as they are one of the few natural grains a horse would find in the wild. They are very digestible and have a reasonable level of protein and healthy fats. They should be fed whole, as crushing or any method that breaks the hull exposes the kernel and loses valuable nutrients. Unfortunately, they are fed to horses that need the energy (like racehorses), and Arthur does not need any addition to his already stressed situation. They have a glycemic index of around 94 (high).

Sweet feed
I am not an advocate of sweet feed. I don’t believe horses should be subjected to sugars. They don’t eat them in the wild and their bodies have limited ability to deal with it and often respond by becoming insulin resistive (IR), with blood sugar imbalances and metabolic problems. Many sweet feeds contain cheap products or grains not meant for horses, such as corn (high in starch, low in fiber, poor digestibility), and barley (only steam processed for horses). It has a glycemic index of 123 (very high).

I do not like pellets of any kind, as most are processed with high heat and sugars and contain cheap by-products. They are often considered a complete feed, but all horses require different levels of ingredients and products for one feed to be considered ‘complete’.

There is not a single oil I would pour down a horse’s throat. Horse’s do not have gallbladders (only mammal that doesn’t) and are considered a super-vegan, and do not find or eat oil in their natural state. It slows down their intestinal transit times, potentially setting a horse up for impaction colic and a host of fatty liver diseases. Most oil also has no nutritional value.

A good alternative for Arthur:
Extruded Feeds

These feeds look like dog kibbles. They are puffed and light weight, and made by exposing ground grains to high heats, increasing digestibility. They are easy for the horse to pre-digest through chewing, and allow better absorption of vitamins, minerals and proteins. They are a good choice for underweight and older horses. They have a moderate glycemic index. I use a product called Step Two, for working and performance horses.

Beet Pulp
This is more than just a ‘filler’. Beet pulp is highly fibrous, has a good protein level and is fairly high in calcium and low in phosphorus. Horses gain weight on it, and it is one of the less expensive foods. It does need to be soaked in water for about 4 hours before feeding, and feeding it to a horse whole or soaked for more than 12 hours can expose the horse to colic and sometimes death. Care must be taken when using this product, but it is a great alternative to getting weight back on Arthur. It has a lower glycemic index.

Wheat bran
Most people believe that wheat bran should only be fed occasionally, but the opposite is true. It is not a laxative for horses as they easily ferment the fiber, and it is soothing to the intestinal system with the benefits of high fiber feeds. It provides B vitamins, minerals, zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It is a good daily compliment to beet pulp and can be fed up to 2 cups maximum per 24 hours.

Free Fed Hay
I give my horses access to hay 24/7. They are happy, healthy and in perfect weight with no hay belly. We make feeders that fit tightly, 2 stacked bales at a time, and there are 2 pieces of rebar, at each end, to keep the horse from throwing the hay on the ground. It is also high enough that a mini can’t get their heads into the bin, allowing you to feed the mini separately in case it gains weight too quickly. Free feeding does help to settle nervous or anxious horses by giving them back their ability to eat small amounts continuously.

Triple Crown Supplements
I have used Triple Crown products for years, and swear by the 12% concentrated supplement. They do not increase a horse’s activity level and seem to compliment the way I feed.


Thank you very much, that helped a lot. I’d heard of beet pulp but never really considered it up to this point.


2 responses to “My older Paso Fino gelding is losing weight trying to protect a mini mare.

  1. Hello…interesting about the Wheat Bran being good; I agree…what is your opinion on Rice Bran? great article

    • Rice is not a typical item on a horse’s diet. I think we need to really understand what we do with our animals when we stray from their “native” diets: we put their entire body on the defense trying to adjust to new foreign material. Yes, their bodies “can” take these in, but horses have evolved for millions and millions of years. You just can’t change that overnight.

      My main concern with rice is the calcium to phosphorus ratio. We horse owners cannot “see” the havoc inside the horse we create when this ratio becomes unbalanced. But we need to fully understand the implications of it. We must learn to “see” with our understanding, more than our eyes.

      Rice misses on the more complete nutritional mark compared to wheat. As we move ahead in GMO technology, rice will also become genetically modified. So will wheat. Once this happens, you may see your horses begin to accumulate allergies and diseases much like humans have experienced over the last 15 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s