Hard keeper advice - what am I missing?

I am looking for any and all honest advice on putting weight on hard keepers. I’ve had horses for over 15 years and nursed many back to health but my new one is stumping me. Please help! The usual things don’t seem to be making any difference.

4 months ago I took in an OTTB to be a companion to my other older horse. He was given to me for free by someone looking to re-home him because he had been injured (suspensory), but he appeared healthy overall and was in a nice stable when we picked him up. I thought he looked lean, but what OTTB doesn’t? He was in heavy work before I got him and I planned to retire him to mostly pasture pet with only light riding. My vet came out right away and gave him a clean bill of health - no dental work needed, no obvious ulcers, just told me to keep trying to fatten him up.

He gets a mix of grass/alfalfa hay, small square bales, it is free-choice available 24/7 but it gets topped up with about 20lbs of hay alone each day. I felt he needed a little boost calorie-wise, so I started supplementing this hay with soaked alfalfa pellets and beet pulp - he loves that. In addition to this, I offer one serving daily of senior feed, with an added fat supplement. The senior feeds I alternated between Triple Crown Senior and Sentinel Senior because these seemed to have the highest protein and fat percent. The fat supplement I originally used Cool Calories but he tried very hard to avoid it, so I switched to Farnam Weight builder and he’s eating that now. He also gets a variety of treats and a couple scoops of oats here and there, carrots, apples, lots of kisses.

But he didn’t seem to be making much improvement - so I had a fecal count done, but it came back all clear. The vet came out again, and said his teeth were still just fine. He was blanketed all this winter. I’ve reached out to the vet a third time now to consider treating with UlcerGard even though he doesn’t react on the ulcer point test.

The only thing different about his life with me now and his life with his previous family is that they had hind-shoes on him. When I picked him up his previous owner made a comment I remember, and said “I was finally able to get muscle on his back-end with a lift on his right hoof.” My farrier wanted to take his shoes off for the winter right away - but is there anyway that having that lift under his right foot could make such a difference to the fat/muscle in his rump?

I thought that his previous owners seemed very responsible and honest, but when I requested records from the vet they didn’t pass them on - they just wrote out a summary of latest problems with his suspensory (which has since healed just fine) and made me hard copies of the scans of his leg. The rest of his health history wasn’t reported on. Is there something possibly very bad here that they didn’t disclose that you recommend I have my vet go looking for?

Is there any other specific brand/feed that I should really try? And is there a specific supplement you would recommend?

Besides ulcers and teeth, is there something specific you think I should ask my vet to directly look for or test? Horse has absolutely no other symptoms.

Have you ever done a treatment for ulcers without scoping or do you have to scope first to confirm ulcers? How many days of treatment did you do and did you see a positive result in weight gain afterwards?

Please be realistic with me - this horse is 15 years old and has worked hard his entire life. Am I being unrealistic about how much weight he may be able to gain? If you have a hard-keeper I’d love to see a photo of them and for you to share what you do to keep them fat, especially in the winter. Usually I can see a difference in 4 months - do I need to be more patient this time?

Thanks so much! I appreciate all responses and if you have any ideas for me I haven’t considered yet, please let me know.

Do you have pictures of his condition? What’s his BCS? Sorry if you said , I skimmed.

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I think we need to see a photo.

What’s his overall weight? Can you see lots of ribs? If yes, he is underweight. Are his ribs covered, but you see muscle atrophy on his SI or rump or backbone, possibly asymmetric? This is back muscle problems and may get more obvious with less exercise.

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Yes, photos would help a lot.

But also - how much grain, beet pulp, and alfalfa are you feeding?

If you haven’t had a TB before, you might be surprised that they just need more calories than other breeds.

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Thanks so much both of you, I will post a photo as soon as I’m back home on my regular computer. Vet said his BCS was a 4 but I thought he looked more like a 3.5 - 4. His “skinny” places don’t actually match perfectly with the BCS charts so maybe that itself is a sign that this isn’t just a regular hard-keeper issue but something else.

My vet said that some thoroughbreds are just like this and never put much weight on, but my instinct is just telling me something different is going on here.

You can for sure see his ribs and but honestly I’m more alarmed by the thinning of his SI area. That’s the part that just seems to refuse to put any bulk on. And yes, it does for sure seem atrophied. He has been off exercise for about 5 months now due to the SI injury but isn’t hot and isn’t lame. Do you think having the lift off, plus being off exercise, could do it?

I’ll be home later and will post photos for you all! Thank you so much!

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I’ve absolutely seen TBs out of work whose lack of muscle made them look thin. Well fed ones. Pics will be so useful. And weights/amounts of feed.

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Oh he’s got an SI injury not just suspensory? . There you go. Quite likely it is something chronic that finally flared up too much. I’ve seen a few horses that were plump up at 5 or 6 and still had atrophied toplines. I’m betting we see a bit of a hunters bump on the photos.

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I use Adeptus Gleam & Gain for one of mine that has a lot of thoroughbred in her. She seems to like it and it does appear to have helped.

Good luck with your horse!

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Sorry my phone is autocorrecting this so much! He was re-homed and taken off heavy exercise due to the suspensory injury, which I’ve since learned is essentially healed and relatively minor.

The lift in his foot was for an unclear SI injury from years prior? It wasn’t fully disclosed to me when/how/if there was something done to treat that, but I do know he had a fall on the track several years back. At least 10 years ago. He did successfully event and show-jump for several years afterwards. But there was a comment made to me about how he was never quite right without the lift. Now you’ve all got me wondering if he won’t be comfortable or keep any topline without the lift.

Perhaps his SI injury is finally flaring up like you said and that’s the real reason he was needing a new home.

He’s a spectacular horse and I just want him to be alright.

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When you say lift so you mean a wedge pad and or wedge shoe ?

Also is he a good eater ? Finish his hay and grain ? Do you think he is painful ?

Chronic pain can make them hard to put or keep weight on.
I’ve known horses who just do not fill in in the top line without regular work, no matter how many calories they’re eating.
We would need to know how much (pounds) beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, and senior feed he’s getting to really provide suggestions. If you’re, say, soaking a pound of the first two and giving just “a scoop” once per day of the senior, well, he’s just not getting enough calories.

If it were mine, based on the information provided, I’d put him on free-choice Alfalfa hay, a high fat feed with no molasses (starting at six pounds per day, after a 10-day transition period if the senior feeds don’t fit that description, and going up as needed), and Tumeric for help with possible pain.

The chestnut is my gelding, I lost him last year suddenly to strangulating lipomas, but the photo is a year prior, when he was 21. He was always a hard keeper, and it didn’t help that boarding barn BOs never fed enough hay. In retirement at home, he got free-choice grass hay (ate about 40 lbs per day based on how often I bought rolls), out 24/7 on grass, six pounds (when dry) soaked alfalfa cubes per day, ten pounds of grain per day, and oil for some more fat. Just to stay at a solid 5 BCS, always hovering on a “4.75” occasionally showing a teeny smidge of rib.

The bay is my mare a few weeks ago. She was a “hard keeper” when we lived in Ohio. In reality, it was (again) that no BO would feed enough hay (two puny flakes AM and PM is NOT enough). I supplemented her with extra hay when I boarded her, and she got ten pounds of grain per day. Now that I’m in control, she is on free-choice Alfalfa or Orchard/Alfalfa (eats about 35 lbs per day based on how long her blocks last), out 24/7 on grass, and gets a whole 1-1.5 pounds of ration balancer per day. And definitely needs to drop some pounds (she got chonky having some time off treating for EPM and we’re slowly starting back to work).

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Pictures would be super helpful here. It sounds a lot like my last horse. Massive ISH who I struggled to put weight on and I swear could lose 100 lbs in a weekend.

The thing that always bothered me about him was he absolutely would not put weight or muscle on over his hind end. His hind end was always atrophied and no amount of hill work, hay, high protein diet or anything else could improve it. His hind end was disproportionately small for his body. My current 16.1 pure TB honestly has a bigger booty than my 17.3 guy did. He didn’t have a super pronounced hunter bump from the side but from behind, his hind end was pitched away from his SI. I don’t think his SI was acutely painful when I owned him because he didn’t really show any classic SI injury signs but I think the scar tissue and historical damage inhibited him from working over his back well and using those muscles in a way that would facilitate growth.

I ended up putting him down almost 2 years ago due to coffin joint arthritis but I actually suspect his original problems started in his SI. He compensated by shifting his weight over front feet and slowly developed arthritis. He constantly struggled with ulcers and looking back, that was 100% due to chronic pain.

Your description sounds a lot like what I went through and it sounds like your gut is telling you something is NQR.

I question if you are feeding him enough. How much grain is ‘one serving’ of senior? In pounds if you can, but quarts would be better info, too. Do you live in a cold climate? If so, is he being blanketed? Does he eat with the other horse or is he fed somewhere undisturbed?

As an example, one of mine was race fit and underweight when I got him. I fed him free choice alfalfa, 6 pounds of fibergized, 2 pounds of Tribute K Finish (a high fat supplement), 2x/day. It also got very cold suddenly shortly after I got him, so I blanketed him. Even though he was to be turned out for months. If they’re burning calories to stay warm, they aren’t gaining weight. Almost a year later, he eats free choice alfalfa when he’s out, timothy in the stall, and 3 pounds of grain 2x/day. He’ll also eat oil now, so he gets about 2 oz of flax oil 1x/day.

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My ottb is a hard keeper. I’ve never had issues with ulcers until this January. We are treating without scoping. Most likely it’s caused by him being home alone. I’m getting him a buddy as soon as I can finish the second stall & fence the pasture so everyone can have a separate place outside while they get to know each other. Treating ulcers is not cheap, if the vet doesn’t think it’s the issue read up on symptoms before you do anything. The first month of gastrogard/ulcergard at a full tube a day was over $1000. 4 weeks at a half tube a day & then a 1/4 tube a day. I can try tapering down after that.

We really need to know what the senior feed is being fed in pounds. It just might not be enough for him & a picture would help as suggested. You should also weigh the alfalfa pellets & that can probably be increased depending on how much he gets.

Years ago a vet suggested ABC plus. It will put weight on them in 2 to 3 weeks. I now keep him on it permanently. You can find it online with free shipping.

Since part of my guy’s ulcer symptoms presented as mild colic, I cut down on grain before the vet came out. He was already getting 2/3 pound of Coolstance a day so when he started losing weight I upped it to a pound a day. You have to start slow with it, about 1/2 cup a day to start. If you feed more than 2 cups it needs to be soaked. 1 cup weighs 1/3 pound.

I second the “how much is a serving” posters.

I have a 17 yo OTTB who is in moderate work 5-6 days a week. He gets 4 lbs of Purina Impact Pro Performance twice a day, free choice grass hay, and for the past year has been getting there Purina amino acid supplement Super Sport. I am in the process of switching him off the super sport and just giving soaked 4 lbs alfalfa pellets daily instead. He also gets Omega Horseshine which is a fat supplement. He looks really good and has a great topline.

I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this horse just needs more. More calories, more fat, more protein. Thoroughbreds need a LOT of food and have high protein and fat requirements. My horse was off for almost a year with a suspensory injury and his feed requirements didn’t change. In fact he needed even more alfalfa to keep his condition good and fend off stomach issues.

For a fat supplement I would go with something flax seed based because it is anti inflammatory, and you could even feed just straight flax (I’ve had great luck with Omega Horseshine). I’ve never seen any kind of difference with beet pulp, and I’ve never met a thoroughbred that didn’t look better with alfalfa. Ensure that the protein is enough and add amino acids if needed. And of course keep feeding as much hay as the horse will eat!

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Get a scale and weigh your feed. Are you feeding the recommended amount on the bag?

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In terms of other things to consider that aren’t feed related… (based on your description of hind end atrophy, the RH wedge he used to have, and the suspensory injury):

Negative plantar angle(s)
EPM
PSSM
hindgut ulcers

Not trying to scare you or say it’s all or any of that, but definitely some things you can look into (plenty of first hand experiences right here on COTH) and see if anything seems like a match.

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I have a 28 year old TB gelding - my retired dressage horse and a 29 year old retired mare who has raced, showed, been inspected and was a broodmare. Both are getting Purina Senior, minerals AND ground flaxseed mixed in and soaked. They are getting about 8 lb of Senior 2 x day and the added ground flaxseed is about a pound 2xday. They LOVE it and it has put weight on. It has to be ground flaxseed to be digestible. I believe it’s made by Tribute, already ground, so easy to get and feed. Try it!

Have you considered the possibility of hindgut ulcers? I have a mare who hasn’t been gaining weight nearly as quickly as we’d like given the sheer amount we’re feeding (plus Cool Calories). Vet/chiro figured out that her hindgut was a mess, so we started her on a combo of Equiotic and Succeed and we’re already seeing a difference.