New Senior horse - need feeding regimen

Upper Penn Love

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This is my first horse and I feel rather unprepared. My neighbors decided to get rid of their two horses when there daughter went away to college and they sprung the idea on me that they would just give me the older of the two about a month ago. Both horses went to stay at our other neighbors barn as she had dibs on the younger horse she bred herself. In exchange for help around the barn on days she work 12 hour shifts she agreed to let me board my new horse there for free. I just need to pay for hay and feed.

Not clear on the age of my horse but she's supposed to be in her early 20s. The original owners had her on pasture and supplemented with grain in the winter, a quart bucket full a day I believe. She's looking lean this year so we have been upping it in the new barn to about 2 quarts a day, and we are splitting a 2string bale of hay between 5 horses while they are still on pasture at the moment.

If her weight doesn't start to look up we were going to look into beat pulp. My question is about senior pellets. I've been looking into the 50# bags at tractor supply company how do these compare to the hay/ grain/ possibly beet pulp idea? It looks like it might be a bit more expensive but if it has a more balanced blend especially for seniors I'd give it a shot. Anyone else have senior? What ratio do you feed for pellets/grain/ hay?

I do live in northern michigan, we have already had a few frosts and it's a long snowy winter.
 

sawfish99

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First, I find it highly doubtful that you are feeding sufficient hay. In comparison, we are currently feeding 2 horses and 3 ponies over 100 lbs of hay a day. Hay should be fed at 1.5-3.5% of a horse's body weight per day. For an "average" 1000 lb horse, that means probably 25 lbs of hay as a starting point. If they gain weight cut back, and if underweight, add to it. Hay bale weight varies widely by region, but in our area, they are 35 lbs on average (weigh them yourself - don't trust what the farmer says).

Next, your question has a MASSIVE number of variables. It would be downright inappropriate to give you a recipe over the internet. Things that need to be considered are: body condition, teeth condition, exercise/turnout, dietary deficiencies, and many others. You need a qualified professional in your area to help you learn this. Maybe a vet. Maybe a farrier or barefoot trimmer. Maybe a trainer. Regardless, almost all of them will have their own opinions about the answers to your questions.

Regarding beet pulp specifically, while it is highly relied on to add weight to horses, it is actually a very low quality feed. The beet pulp is a waste product. MOST beet pulp is loaded with sugars. While sugar is not added, the refining process leaves it with lots of sugar in the beet pulp. If you read the bag, it has this disclaimer somewhere on it. Excessive sugar in the diet is a much bigger problem for horses than most owners understand. Many hoof problems can be improved or eliminated with the reduction or elimination of sugars from the diet. Unfortunately, senior feeds are also loaded with excessive sugar, usually molasses.

For a horse that is looking underweight, I got straight to the mouth. Get a good equine dentist out to evaluate the horse and go from there. Personally, I am in the camp that believes in hand floating and against power floating. Make your own choice about that.
 

CritterZone

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I would suggest you have a vet check her teeth first thing. It doesn't matter how much food you throw at her, if her teeth are not in good order, she will not gain, or even maintain her weight on what she can eat. It also wouldn't hurt to have a fecal test for worms and then worm if needed. I know the fecal tests are not 100%, but it will give you an idea of what she is dealing with. Second, you can hardly feed an older horse too much hay (there are situations with horses who have metabolic problems who can be overfed, but that is not what we are talking about here). Make sure she is actually getting to eat. It isn't uncommon for an older horse to get pushed away from a group feeder or hay pile. You have everything working against you at this point as far as getting weight on her before winter. As it gets colder, she will need more hay to stay warm. I am not a fan of blankets and don't blanket any of my own horses, however, if the nights are consistently below freezing and she is still thin, you should consider it. Grain is not your best friend when trying to put weight on a horse, so be careful with how much you give her.
 

MDres

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You stated you live in northern Michigan, and already have had below freezing temps and anticipate a long winter.

Blanket her. If she is not locked in a covered stall or run, then you will need to use a good waterproof blanket when there is a chance of precipitation. A wet blanket is 100x worse than no blanket. I don't blanket any of my young, fit horses, or even my old horses that are able to maintain weight. But any horse that is trying to gain weight in the winter will benefit from being blanketed. The blanket lets them conserve calories that would otherwise be spent keeping warm.

Free choice hay will keep her warmer long term than any "grain" product. BUT!!! If she cannot chew, swallow and process that hay, it does her absolutely no good. Senior horses can often have mouth/tooth issues that cannot be overcome by floating. I definitely agree with the others that have said to have a vet/dentist examine her mouth, but you may find out that she has enough missing teeth that she cannot process hay. Two of my horses have reached this point - one is 29 and the other is 37. They simply do not have enough teeth left to chew hay, or even long grass. It just gets "quidded" (rolled into little fist-sized bundles) and spit out. They survive on soaked senior feed and soaked hay cubes.

The popularity of "complete" senior pellets has soared over the last 15+ years. Just about every manufacturer has a variety, and they are NOT all equal. Some horses do fine on the "cheap stuff" like TSC's Dumor brand, while other horses (like mine) require the more expensive brands (currently feeding Triple Crown Senior after trying Dumor, Purina, Blue Seal, etc. with poor results). Whatever pellets you use, I'd recommend soaking them. It makes them easier for her to eat.

If she cannot process hay, you will need to supplement her with hay cubes in order for her to maintain proper gut function. Horse's need "long stem" forage for their digestive system to work correctly. The 1-2" length of hay in the cubes is long enough to qualify. DEFINITELY soak the cubes until they disentigrate, otherwise she could choke.
 

alsea1

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Most def. have her teeth checked.
If her teeth are bad she won't gain.

Older horse require special care to maintain, but it is indeed doable.

There are lots of feeds now just for the older horse.
 

bnttyra

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I agree with the other posters. Have her checked out by a vet first, and definitely have her teeth checked as that could easily be the problem.

Free choice good quality hay is the very first thing I provide all elderly horses. Most do need so sort of extra feed and that I wait until my vet gives me an assessment of what that particular horse may need. I do use beet pulp to help keep weight on when I am really working my horses but I also use it because it is a natural physlluim effect. Where I live, we have big problem with sand colic and beet pulp does help eliminate that from their systems. Sand build up can be another big reason horses lose weight out here.
 

w c

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Get a veterinary dentist out, a good one, and have the horse's teeth done. Have your vet test the horse for disease, pain, metabolic disorders that could cause weight loss. DON'T make any changes to feed or go buying any supplements until the vet has had a chance to make sure there are no health problems. Just be sure and get the vet and vet dentist out soon. Don't wait on a horse that is losing weight.

Get a weight tape, and follow its directions to weigh your horse before the dentist or vet arrives. When you talk to him/her on the phone give the horse's weight, age, height.

If you have a horse that has not been diagnosed yet as to what's wrong, don't change its feed. Leave the feed the same and just get the vet out quick. Changing the feed just muddies up the waters and feed and supplements don't fix everything.

If I had a dime for every time I met someone who fed its horse some supplement or just gave more feed when it was sick and needed medical care from a vet, I'd be rich. It's sad - please don't get into that pattern. Get the diagnosis, THEN set up a plan for the diet with the vet.

It wouldn't be bad to buy a stethoscope and a thermometer too, and get the heart rate and temperature. There are online sources explaining what a horse's temp and heart rate should be and how to take them.

The horse should be consuming between 2-3% of its weight, in good quality horse hay, per day. If the pasture is extremely good, it might provide some nutrition and replace some of that hay - perhaps even as much as a flake of hay for every hour the horse is grazing. By this time of year most pastures are not providing much nutrition.

Most people either way under or over estimate how much hay a horse needs, if they're new to horses. And many don't understand that a pasture, unless it's reseeded and maintained in really good shape (including keeping horses off it when it's wet outside and they might cut it up), if crowded or bitten down(or the older horse is chased away from the remaining grass), doesn't provide much more than a hobby for the horse.
 
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