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My "easy keeper" is looking underweight... feeding help! UPDATE # 127

Hi all,

I’ve already called my vet and waiting on them to get back to me but in the meantime I’m just freaking out a lil’ bit.

My QH mare has lost some weight in the past few months (I bought her in November), and I’m fairly sure it’s because her workload has increased and she’s still being fed kind of the bare minimum QH diet, but wanted to see if maybe I’m overreacting.

My BO has agreed to increase her hay immediately, but I still haven’t heard back specifically how much hay (weight-wise) she’s supposed to be getting vs. how much my BO is planning to raise it.

She currently gets:

  • 1 lb Nutrena Topline balancer per day
  • Smarthoof (not replacing this when it runs out bc I think it’s not rly doing much)
  • Mega Cell
  • electrolytes
  • 4 flakes per day of alfalfa/orchard mix (again, not sure of the supposed weight but I did order a hay scale and plan to do a lil’ investigating of my own as soon as I get that)
  • out 24/7 on pretty short, cropped pasture that is more mud than grass

I ordered Omega Horse Shine to replace the Mega Cell and was thinking I might add a tiny bit of grain in addition to her ration balancer.

My options for grain are unfortunately limited to Nutrena Safe Choice Perform or Safe Choice Senior - I’ve heard lots of negative things about this feed but it’s what I have to work with and I’m not allowed to bring in my own grain. I asked my BO about adding just like a pound or two of the senior per day, mainly because it’s the lower starch option, but she thinks that is a bad idea and I guess is concerned it will make my horse too fat, and wants to just increase the hay first.

Some other things to note:

  • She’s super sensitive on her belly and sides, pins her ears if you even just lightly touch her sides. she has had both saddles fitted and had a chiro adjustment a couple weeks ago, so I’m p sure it’s her gut!
  • her poop has been a cow pat consistency on and off for the past couple of months, not full-on diarrhea but definitely not solid enough either - maybe not enough fiber?
  • she’s been dewormed and had her poop re-checked afterwards to find that she is worm-free, but they found a “moderate” amount of sand in her poop - which also tells me she’s probably not getting enough hay
  • her coat looks pretty rough to me but it’s kinda hard to tell because it’s her long winter coat and I haven’t had her long enough to really know the difference.
  • she is now being worked little harder on the flat and has started to jump a little bit, and I’m pretty sure it’s more work than she’s really been asked to do for quite awhile, definitely in the past year.

I will probably order some omeprazole just to see if that helps, but I feel like the underlying problem is that she’s just not getting enough nutrition now that she’s in full work and being ridden 5 days a week!

I’ve also done a FeedXL diet analysis and it said on her current diet she’s getting only 78% of her daily digestible energy requirements. Is it totally stupid to add like 1-2 pounds of senior feed per day to her diet in addition to her ration balancer?

I just feel like it shouldn’t be that hard to fatten up a quarter horse so we’re definitely not doing something right if I can see ALL of her ribs quite prominently.

Photos below - and note that yes she does get her hay served to her in a feeder, and in the last photos she had just dumped all of it out on the ground herself, but we do actively try to keep her from eating it off the ground :roll_eyes:

December 11:

January 2:

From the past week:

Her coat and topline look improved to me.

I would not call her underweight

I always start by increasing hay. I prefer them to be on free-choice as much as possible, so I’d increase her to at least six or eight flakes per day, more alfalfa than orchard. I agree with your BO on not adding Senior at this time.

She looks fine to me, it is not an urgent need to increase her weight. She’s like a 4.5 from these photos, she’s just showing a teeny bit of rib. Frankly (flame suit on) I prefer her weight now over the December weight.

The other symptoms/issues would make me treat for ulcers.


No need for a flame suit, I totally agree she was too fat and no muscle in December. She was also full of worms so I think that big ol’ belly is at least partially due to that!


I’d prefer to see more weight on this horse, especially this time of year–mine, at least, always drop when the temps begin to warm up and grass isn’t in quite yet. They don’t eat as much hay and prefer to pick at the tiny growing grasses.

I’d add hay until she’s free choice or close to it, and go from there.

The gut symptoms are concerning for both gastric ulcers and hind gut. Can you scope her?


I think megacell is iron? She doesn’t need that.

I don’t know your products. My advice would be free choice hay plus make sure you are covering all the vitamins and minerals, either in a comprehensive ration balancer or a vitamin mineral supplement in a small beet pulp mash. Add a cup of flax.

Basically when horses lose weight they are not getting enough hay. Some anorexic ottb won’t eat enough hay, but most qh will eat what you give them. Virtually all mystery weight loss in boarding situations is down to the barn manager not feeding enough, either because of costs or workload. Whatever bm is telling you, the horse is not getting enough hay to keep weight on in winter. It’s a very simple fix, and does not require vets advice.

As far as fiber, horses get an insane amount of fiber from hay and grass, there is no need to add any fiber supplements.

Ongoing diarrhea is an issue. What I do for it is pull all supplements and grain, put the horse on straight hay, and feed a good probiotic for two weeks. I would not toss more bagged feed at a horse with chronic diarrhea.

In general, diarrhea in animals or people is not caused by too little fiber. Quite the opposite.

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Horses that lose weight aren’t getting enough calories. There are certainly horses out there that aren’t capable of eating enough hay to maintain, even if they stuff their faces 24/7. I’ve had horses that still need supplemental meals of hard feed or added oil even on free choice alfalfa. They eat just fine, but it’s still not enough for them.

And often, hay doesn’t supply the protein you need, or at least the limiting amino acids you need, so you’ve got to provide those to ensure there are enough “building blocks” to provide muscle coverage.

Yeah, this horse probably needs more hay, but it’s a really sweeping generalization to say that all thin horses out there everywhere will be cured with more hay. That’s just not the case at all.


I was thinking more about mystery weight loss specifically in boarding situations. I agree, it’s different if you are doing the care yourself, feeding free choice hay, and horse continues to decline. As I said too, yes, TB can be unwilling to eat enough hay for their calorie demands.

But honestly in boarding situations 90% of the time it’s the bm just shorting the hay. It’s interesting the bm didn’t notice the horse losing weight or want to address that. It is very easy for a bm to keep believing horse has pasture fodder even well after the grass is gone, and not up the hay.

If the horse was at home and OP was feeding free choice hay my answer would be different. But honestly I don’t really trust most boarding barns in winter.

I do self board :slight_smile:


Mega Cell is a complete multi-vitamin, no iron that I know of! https://www.medvetpharm.com/mega-cell-pellets/#product-ingredients

hmmm interesting, I’ve read the opposite. However I believe the poop stuff is at least partially due to the increased amount of sand in her gut, which I’m hoping to resolve by upping her hay, so we’re on the same page there! I’m not planning to supplement her with fiber, just adding Omega Horse Shine, which has ground flaxseed.

@Scribbler, Maybe you’re thinking of Red Cell?

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And this probably isn’t helpful, but my mare did not look very good on Nutrena’s Empower (the Topline Balancer you’re feeding now), but I didn’t realize how much it wasn’t doing for her until I switched to Triple Crown 30% RB. I know that’s not an option for you where she’s at, but maybe take her off of the Empower and go with the Performance instead?


Ah yes Red Cell! We don’t have most American products up here in Canada.

A horse that is getting 20lbs of hay a day is getting enough fibre. However if the hay has too much sugar it can throw off gut flora. And some horses react to coarse hay or just switching from grass to hay by getting diarrhea.

Too little fibre causes constipation.

The horse may also be sensitive to alfalfa. Or the orchard hay might be high sugar. How long has horse been on this particular batch of hay?

It sounds like you’re still saying that every horse should be able to maintain on hay alone.

If a horse is eating 2-3% of their body weight in good hay, and still too thin, do you consider that “unwilling to eat enough hay to maintain”?

I mean…sure…if I could stuff 120#s of hay (10% body weight) into a horse in a day, she might not need grain, but that’s sort of impossible from a “how the horse works” perspective.

MOST horses, at least those in work, probably need some sort of supplemental calorie contribution above and beyond only hay to maintain weight and support muscle mass.


It is hard when boarding, which is why I want to just get the vet involved sooner than later to kind of back up my observations and add value to what I already believe (or to tell me I’m wrong and calm TF down!) Better to avoid an argument and just bring in an expert.

Yes, if a horse can’t physically consume enough hay for needed calories, they need concentrates. But first we need to see this horse get free choice hay for a month.

I was trying to make a point about specifically boarding situations. I think a lot of people end up throwing bagged feed or supplements at horses when the root cause is the boarding barn is not feeding enough good quality hay often enough. Fix that and then see what you have.

You can’t make up for too little hay with concentrates.


Yeah I soooo wish I had more options because it seems like there’s a lot that would be better than the Nutrena feeds. I do want to keep her on the RB though because whether or not she gets any grain, the amount I’d want to give her would be too little to cover all of her nutritional needs… hence why I was thinking I’d just add a tiny amount of grain and keep the RB. In a perfect world I’d just get a better RB plus more hay and that would probably be the end of it!

I run a boarding barn. Up the hay first. 2 flakes twice a day is a really small amount. As a BO I would double the hay as a first step, if she will clean it up.

next step would be to up the diet balancer if you can. Most can be fed at a higher rate but I am not familiar with that one so you’ll have to check specifics.


If I felt I needed a vet call to back up my claim my horse needs sufficient hay to keep on weight, honestly I’d be looking at another barn. The problem with bm who are cutting corners because of cash flow or other problems is you can never really trust them to follow through on feed and care.

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Yep, totally agree! That’s just not what you said above, so was confused :slight_smile:

Good point! According to her weight she should be in the 1.5 - 3 lb range of the Empower Topline balancer, and she’s only getting 1 lb now, so that is a good, moderate next step if the hay doesn’t work.

One other thing that complicates the hay situation, she lives outside with 2 other horses and is the exact middle of the pack. When they all get the exact same amount of hay at the exact same time, everything works out fine, but if there’s any extra the Boss Mare in the group chases mine away. BO says she will just raise everyone’s hay so they’re all getting equal amounts, but the Boss Mare is like not getting ridden very much so probably doesn’t need a whole lot extra. I’m just wondering if the amount she’s planning to raise it will even be enough.

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