Cranky Chestnut Mare Help - Nutrition?

I own a 13 year old Welch/Quarter horse cross mare named Dawn. When I first bought her three years ago, unknown to us, she had ulcers causing her to lose weight rapidly in the winter and go off feed when given bute for a sore back. She underwent ulcer treatment with UlcerGuard, alfalfa, Red Cell (she was anemic from the ulcers), and aloe vera juice. We also changed her feed from EquiLene to Nutrena SafeChoice Perform upon recommendations from a nutritionist. Within a month, she was happy and healthy and gaining weight rapidly. Since then she’s been overall very healthy, maintained weight, etc.

In August, she was put on stall rest (from being out on pasture 24/7) due to a lateral branch suspensory sprain in her left hind leg. In November, she was allowed out in a small pen in the paddock with other horses and mid-December she was finally turned out with no issues. During stall rest she received 10-15 lbs high quality grass hay, reduced grain amounts, and free choice salt.

Ever since coming off of stall rest, she’s been more spooky, standoffish, and unfriendly to the point of being aggressive to the other horses she’s turned out with. She used to be low-man on the totem pole, quiet/not spooky, and friendly (although she is more of a one-person horse rather than the buddy-gelding type). She no longer greets me happily although she’s been completely cleared by two veterinarians. I’m starting to wonder if it’s because of her diet and possibly a thiamine (B1) deficiency.

She is currently in mild-moderate work to get her back in shape and conditioner her while being very careful of her suspensory/soft tissue.

Her current ration is:
Turn out 24/7 except for grain meal on a bermuda/rye grass pasture that’s rather poor because of the weather
1 pound Nutrena SafeChoice Perform
1 pound Nutrena Empower Balance Grass Formulation
1 oz. Dumor Electrolytes (she doesn’t use a salt block hardly at all)
1 scoop (3.78 g) of Mare Magic (started in mid-October because of stall-induced anxiety)
2-4 pounds of good quality grass hay (coastal mix, I believe)

I recently evaluated her diet with FeedXL which only showed that her Vitamin B1 levels were pretty low.

Any suggestions on what to address? What could cause such a drastic change in behavior? How can I fix these issues?

Did you have her on any ulcer prevention meds (e.g. preventative dose of UlcerGard) during her stall rest? For many a switch from pasture to confinement is enough to set off ulcers. And the symptoms you mention are consistent with ulcers.

B1/thiamine has also been linked to behaviors like spookiness, though. And if her digestion is not optimal that could exacerbate a B1 issue.

If I were in your shoes I’d start with a treatment regimen of omeprazole (or possibly esomeprazole for an inexpensive alternative – see the Nexium thread Simkie started for more details) and see if that solves it.

If she was fine on a similar feed regimen in the past, ulcers would be higher on my list of possibilities to rule out than vitamin deficiency.

She did receive about two weeks of UlcerGuard (full dose then weaned down to prevention dose for three weeks) because she was so miserable that she needed Bute (vet tried Banamine to see if it would help at all to try to prevent her tummy having issues but no improvement on pain). She received Bute at a low dose (I believe 1 gram once daily - she’s about 750 lbs) for pain for about a week to a week and a half. After that, she was holding up pretty well without the pain management so vet opted to continue UlcerGuard while discontinuing the Bute. Also, in the initial stages of stall rest, she had free choice hay (large bale in a Hay Chix net) so she had constant nibble availability. That was before she learned she could stuff a whole bale down in less than 24 hours - she didn’t handle stall rest well!

I’ll definitely look into trying some of the esomeprazole for her and see if she improves.

I’ve heard that horses that are used to full access to nice, green pasture and are pulled off suddenly can have issues synthesizing B1 as it is found more readily in fresh grass rather than hay. Am I mistaken?

I just feel bad that there may be something underlying and I have possibly overlooked it as being out of work/OCD mare.

Oh! I forgot to mention that she came down with a nasty bout of rain rot about 3-4 weeks ago. She was on Uniprim because of how sensitive she is to infection/skin issues (she ‘burns’ with any kind of poultice/liniment). We’ve been treating the lesions daily and clipped the areas but they’ve only just now started healing over (dark skin rather than raw, pink). Because of that, she’s not being ridden.

And in December, she got a nasty wound to the inside of her hock resulting in cellulitis. With antibiotics (Excede, I think), pressure bandages, and banamine, she cleared up in two weeks and was sound. The clipped areas haven’t grown back hardly at all and the wound is still a little scabby although healed fully.

I’m not sure if that’s a clue to something going on?

Copper, zinc, vitamin E are things I would contemplate adding as supplementation. Also another round of UlcerGuard or see the Nexium thread.

Is she really only getting 2-4 lbs of hay?? If so, you need to up that immediately especially if on crappy grass.

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SC Perform is 28% NSC - not something I’d feed this horse. And at the amount you’re feeding, while that does diminish the NSC issue to a large degree, it’s also fairly useless. I’d just feed 2lb of the Empower Balance and drop the Perform. You’ll get a whole lot more nutrition, a bit fewer calories (couple 100 or so), and fewer sugars and starch.

Why is she only getting 2-4lb of hay when the pasture is “rather poor”? More hay, all she will eat.

A B1 deficiency is pretty unlikely, and that’s one of the holes in FeedXL - horses make most of what they need.

With poor pasture, by going to 2lb of the Balance, your Vit E will be 1200IU, and honestly I’d add another 1000.

I would also add copper and zinc (polysaccharide of each, available at Uckele or Horsetech or California Trace).

The scratches are most likely due to deficiencies in Cu and Zn, and possibly also E.

The lack of clipped hair growing back is fine at this time of year - when it was clipped, no Winter coat was growing, and the new Spring coat had not yet started. You should start seeing some meaningful regrowth here shortly, as new hair production ramps up.

I would also put out a loose salt (or salt/trace mineral) product for her. She doesn’t need full time e-lytes, but she does need access to salt of her choosing. There’s no real need to force salt on her under her conditions.

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According to the BO, she throws 6 flakes out twice daily for a total of three horses. If I had my way, I’d give her lots more but it’s not really feasible with the other horses chasing her off and eating most of it.

It sounds like you need to find a new barn then. That isn’t acceptable.

Are the flakes just all tossed in a pile or are they at least scattered around?

If that’s grass hay, each flake is probably 3, maybe 4lb. That’s 36-48lb of hay for 3 horses, which is 12-18lb/horse, probably closer to 12, and that in and of itself isn’t acceptable.

Your mare probably has ulcers due to lack of forage, and that is a management issue that you will constantly battle unless you change it.


In the next few week, the BO is planning to put the horses in a dry lot up by the barn without access to the pasture (preparing to cut the pasture for hay). When they are in the dry lot, I’m going to be buying round bales for them to eat. Hopefully that along with ulcer treatment, loose salt, altering her feed, and other management changes will help. I’ll definitely look into Copper, Zinc, and Vitamin E supplementation as well.

Any other suggestions on what to try?

Are you giving her all her grain in the morning or do you split it into 2 (or 3 if possible) desperate feedings. Horses aren’t intended to eat large amounts of food at once, they’re grazers. She needs to be grazing at least 17 hour of the day.

Remember that change can be stressful for animals who love consistentcy. Let go of your expections and start from the beginning again, just be patient!

I would agree with earlier posters. It sounds like your mare may not be getting enough forage. Her change of behavior is a clue that something isn’t quite right. For the sake of the horse, I would make a change now rather than waiting a few weeks. Maybe you can pay the BO extra to have the horse brought inside a couple of times of day and given free choice hay.

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Your horse is responding to a change in her training schedule, not a change in diet. She’s been on restricted activity and has not had anyone “training” her in a while. She’s reverted back to normal horse behavior. My horses lose their “manners” in the winter when I don’t ride and just turn them out and bring them in. They need a little remedial work when the weather begins to warm up and they go back into work. What you do with them in training carries over into the rest of their behavior, it’s not just limited to the stall/arena.

You address behavior changes with training, not food.

This bb as a whole has a disconnect with reality when it comes to horses. Horses rarely suffer from nutritional deficiencies unless they are starved and malnourished. Parents, when your kids misbehave, do you immediately sit down and pick apart their diets and see what deficiency they may have? No, you address the behavior. When your SO becomes grouchy or you start having issues in your relationship, do you first and foremost analyze the diet, or look for some outlying disease that your SO may have (PSSM, EPM, etc)? No, you think about your interactions and environmental pressures that may be affecting your relationship, and see if a change in behavior can fix things. Yet a HORSE has a change in behavior and this same group screams CHANGE THE DIET or TEST FOR _______ .

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

You don’t consider the fact that there are 3 horses sharing probably around 18lb of hay, twice a day, and her being run off the hay, to be a huge factor here?

She was on stall rest with 10-15lb of hay/day. I’m hoping she is a pony, otherwise that little amount of forage probably contributed to ulcers developing once again.

My 600 lb pony gets 15 lbs of hay at night in a slow feeder, I guarantee her welsh/QH cross is well over that and needs more hay.

When a new behavior happens and there has been little change in environment or handling, you first guess should be soreness or pain. Most horses aren’t generally jerks, just to be jerks. Generally they just don’t feel like being nice, they hurt somewhere.

The fact your horse has had health issues, rain rot, etc. means her needs aren’t being met. They are nutritional.


Oh for sure the current hay situation is not acceptable, and needs to be resolve today, not in a few weeks.

The 10-15lb was before, and is not current. Welsh/QH could be a large pony, and for stall rest, could have been appropriate if it lasted long enough.

Thank you for all your input! I’m not sure this is behavioral, however. She was turned out (very nice, green pasture) with very little handling (grooming, farrier, etc.) for 5+ months last spring/summer because of my health issues. Whenever I got her back into some work, she was perfect and never had any issues.

I went out yesterday and here’s what I’ve noticed: definite weight loss (at least probably 60-75lbs - her ribs aren’t visible [fluffy winter coat] but very easily felt), kinda scruffy coat, lethargic but still extra spooky, disliked being groomed around her girth/fore ribs. She worked perfectly (I have her some hay before working) and was happy to have a job but still seemed off and depressed.

I talked with with the BO and we’ve arranged for her to get extra hay (7 flakes) a day until we can get a high quality round bale. I put out ADM GroStrong loose granules which all the horses enjoyed and ate. I stopped the electrolytes (I prep feed bags for the BO to give her), decreased the amount of SC Perform to about 0.3 lbs, increase the ration balancer to 2 lbs, and added a flake of alfalfa with each time she’s fed.

I will try working with her consistently for the next week and see if anything changes. If not, I’ll go buy some Nexium.

I’ve also heard that certain herbs can be helpful with ulcers such as slippery elm, licorice (short term), marshmallow root, fenugreek, and aloe Vera juice. Thoughts on those and which to try?

I’m also looking at adding Vitamin E, copper, zinc, and more alfalfa. Thoughts on those?

Underfeeding does contribute to a lack of energy so you will see a quieter horse. I see it frequently when I get a horse in for r&r and he’s underweight due to being on stall rest. The vets want them light because they recover from injuries better when the injured area has to bear less weight. Plus they are quieter and less likely to act up.

Once I start feeding them to return to training the energy level goes way up and they get rambunctious out in the field. But they do not get grouchy or aggressive or anything else, they just have more energy.

I’ve NEVER seen underfeeding cause grouchiness or spookiness or any other difference in behavior other than the lower energy level type behavior.

There’s a big difference between keeping a horse lean because you don’t want any extra weight on a recovering leg injury, and what is likely a 1000lb horse, give or take, getting 4-6lb of hay a day, without any grass to speak of.

3 horses. 36-48lb of hay a day. That’s only 12-16lb per horse, per day, if they’re evenly sharing, and when the OP’s horse is being run off hay…

Not acceptable, and that sort of under-feeding, not to mention the stress of being run off food, is almost guaranteed to cause ulcers.

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You do when they get serious ulcers from having nothing to eat hours on end. You give yours hay, many other people don’t and think its ok to go many hours without hay. Its not. Cost more in the long run once you have to treat for ulcers and deal with weight loss.