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What to do if your horse is losing weight

So, you have a horse you’re feeding regularly, but his body condition is in decline. What should you do?

The first thing you should check is what (and how much) you’re feeding the horse. An average, healthy horse requires 15 to 20 pounds of forage per day. Depending on the bale, that’s the equivalent of nearly a half a square bale of hay.

Horses with access to healthy pastures can get their forage from grazing; but those that don’t have that luxury (and there are a LOT of horses that thrive without pastures) rely on their humans to provide their nutrition.

According to the Humane Society, horses without access to pasture do best if they have free access to hay throughout the day.

Some horses also require grain to maintain a healthy body condition. Grain should be nutritional; appropriate for the horse’s age, lifestyle and condition; and fed in small portions, multiple times a day. With grain, you get what you pay for; and whatever you save in feeding, you may find yourself making up for (in spades) in veterinary costs. Sweet feed is not considered a staple – especially for horses that are losing weight.

If you’re satisfied you’re feeding your horse the right foods at the right times, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is your horse allowed to eat? Be sure your horse has a peaceful, safe space to finish his meal. A horse that has to worry about protecting his bucket is a horse at risk of colic and choking. Just because your horse is allowed to start his meal, doesn’t mean he’ll be allowed to finish it. Make sure he’s safe throughout.
  2. When was the last time your horse’s teeth were checked? In Romeo’s case, his last float was in July of 2018, so he was overdue. The vet found points and jags that could’ve caused discomfort when Romeo chewed. As winter approaches and pastures die, Romeo will need healthy teeth to chew hay and grain.
  3. When was the last time you dewormed your horse? Romeo’s fecal count showed intestinal parasites, which can lead to dull coat, inefficient feed utilization, reduced feed intake, and a low body condition score. In older horses, intestinal parasites can lead to colic.


The bottom line is that domesticated horses can’t figure this out for themselves. It’s up to humans to assess their body condition on a routine basis, and adjust their diets and routine care to meet their ever changing needs.