OTTB outside in the cold

I’m looking for advice from people who keep TBs outside in cold climates - I’m in Ottawa, Canada

Lifelong quarterhorse owner here. My current herd consists of 3 easy keeper QHs and a mini. A senior OTTB has just been added to the mix. She came from a farm where she’d been out on a round bale full time and was at just about a perfect weight. I put out multiple round bales for the first few months that she was here to reduce resource-guarding but she still lost weight. She’s not working but is fairly active in the field. I started her on Trimax and increased it very gradually to 3lbs twice a day. She’s been at that rate for about 2 months and I have seen a slight weight gain but I’d like her to gain a bit more weight as we go into winter.

The QHs have also gained weight so I’d like to stop with the free-choice hay. Muzzles are not an option for them because they pull them off constantly. It’s also not an option to put the TB in her own field. So I’m thinking I will start adding alfalfa cubes to the TBs grain and ration the hay.

I’m wondering if I should reduce her grain a bit if I am going to add alfalfa cubes? I will soak the cubes and increase them very gradually but I have no practical experience with hard keepers so I’m not sure if this amount of processed feed is a concern for risk of colic? She’s a fairly slow eater so bolting her food is not a problem.

I worry more about individual preferences than their breed. I have a mixed herd of TBs, QH, STB, and WB in a colder climate (NE USA)… The first horse to get cold is the WB! The TBs are lunatics and play out in the snow in 15F like it’s nothing.

I think you have the right idea to give her alfalfa cubes - or pellets if they’re local to you. I feed all my TBs pellets soaked. I wouldn’t reduce the grain at the moment. Get the weight you want and then make small tweaks.

If you have a hard keeper blanket them more aggressively and if possible, see about making sure their teeth and feet are UTD. Hooks on their teeth can make a horse eat slowly and not masticate food well, turning them into poor keepers. If they’re battling discomfort from their feet, that can make it hard to stick weight on them too.

There’s virtue in adding oil to their diet if they’re being thrifty. One cup of canola or vegetable oil has 2000 calories in it and is a quick easy additive in a group turnout setting. Cheap and readily available – it is not the best oil in terms of omega-3s/6s but in a retired horse short term I have no issue feeding it.


I have the same issue at my barn – two fatties and a senior TB. I give her a max ration of Senior Feed and often add alfalfa pellets or beet pulp in winter on top of that. I still have free choice hay for the most part, but she still needs more.

I wouldn’t consider alfalfa cubes to be a concentrate; especially if you have an option for her to eat them over a period of time (e.g. if stalled for several hours)?

My mare won’t eat oil. So, while it is an easy source of calories, some horses don’t tolerate it well, and/or won’t eat enough of it to make a big difference. She will eat a little when mixed into a big tub of beet pulp, for example, but not sure it’s enough to make it worth it. The beet pulp goes over well, though.

Not sure if you are already blanketing but I will probably start blanketing my old TB within the next 2-3 weeks. She definitely needs one through the winter, whereas my APHA mare has not worn a blanket in years.


Thanks beowulf and S1969 for the great advice. Her teeth and feet are great so no concern there. I tried oil before and she wouldn’t eat it but I may be able to sneak some in with soaked cubes. I have started blanketing her on cool or wet days so I will be on top of that as the season progresses. I know all the theory about how to care for hard keepers but I’ve never put it into practice. Thanks for the tips!

1 Like

Not if her (low) weight is concern. Add calories, don’t just replace them :slight_smile: You’d have to feed a lot of alf cubes to make up for rationed hay. Plus by the time you soak the cubes, it’s a larger volume, and she’s a slow eater.

Can she have a pile of alfalfa hay to herself at feeding time? Alfalfa takes more energy to digest and therefore creates more internal heat

Are there any harder-keeping QHs?
Do these QHs all need hay rationed through the whole winter?

The amount is less of an issue than what makes up the amount. Trimax looks like a pretty nice feed, though it’s hard to tell what the NSC Might be since the ingredients aren’t listed in order of weight. But it looks like it’s probably highly fiber based, which is good

But 6lb a day (2.73g) looks to be under-feeding. I would see if you can do 4, even 5lb each feeding


I used Nutrena Boost for my 17yo WB when he looked ribby coming out of Winter.
Never blanketed him (or my others: TB, TWH & Hackney Pony) after he came to me from FL showslick in December.
Then he got a medium turnout (100g fill) until he grew some coat.
He never grew more than a plushy coat, but tested warm (flanks, brisket, ear tips) all Winter, unblanketed.
Next Fall I added the Boost again - 1 cup 2X daily - and he stayed at a healthy weight through Winter.

When my current horse - 18yo TWH - looked ribby last Spring I added rice bran ( same 2 cups daily) as Boost’s fat was mainly from that.
He looked good all Summer, but started showing a faint outline/suggestion of ribs last month.
At vet’s suggestion I started supplementing with Triple Crown Sr - 1 cup 2X daily.
After 3 weeks he’s looking better, so I’ll keep up the TC through Winter, adding more if he looks to be burning up fat.

I don’t blanket - 21yo Hackney Pony, Walker & 35" mini - unless we get minus-zero temps for longer than a day or two.
Everyone has a 100g turnout.

1 Like

6lbs of grain in two meals should be safe and not an undue risk for colic. Generally 5lbs is the upper limit for concentrate feeds at one meal. I would not cut the grain with the addition of alfalfa cubes. Alfalfa is a great idea - I have a hard keeper TB and it’s put condition on him like nothing else.

Senior horses tend to have a more difficult time maintaining their body temperature. You may need to blanket more heavily than you otherwise might to ensure that she doesn’t waste too many calories trying to keep herself warm, especially if she doesn’t grow a great winter coat.


Thanks everyone! I think I’ll increase her Trimax to 4 lbs per meal and add in some alfalfa cubes. I will also do an inventory of her blankets and see if I think She has enough layers. Her owner has moved away so although she isn’t my horse, I am pretty much on my own in terms of deciding what’s best for her.


Me! I have the hard keeper QH. But he is race bred with a good bit of tb in there, so maybe that’s his excuse.

Sounds like a good start, but definitely keep an eye on her under the blankets. That is tricky in winter as my TB is blanketed from at least November to April, so I have to make a special effort to watch her weight. It’s easy to miss minor weight loss under winter coats and blankets on top. That said, it sounds like she is a “normal” TB to me - not a hard keeper. It’s just a different mindset; it’s harder with different types in the same barn.

Good luck!


yes, I think you’re right that she’s a normal TB and I just need to adjust. I have horror stories of people removing a blanket after a winter to find the horse is skin and bones. Most of the horses in my group are retired so I find regular grooming is the best way to keep a close eye on their condition. I groom her a couple times a week.

1 Like

Try using a senior feed.

Trimax is not designed for older horses.

Compare that to a good senior feed.

Oh for sure there are hard(er) keeping QHs! I was just wandering if any of hers were harder keeping enough they could go out with the TB with hay not netted/restricted.

That’s terrible horsemanship if that happens. Blankets need to be removed at LEAST a few times a week to make sure they aren’t rubbing. A daily check is ideal. And hands need to be ON the horse at least weekly to gauge weight

. It’s also pretty bad to think a fluffy wooly unblanketed horse is in good weight because you never laid hands on them to see that ribs are easily felt under all that fluff.


Agreed; but I think it is easier to see weight loss when you see a horse moving around unblanketed. For those of us in cold climates, I don’t even see my horses in daylight except on weekends from November-February, so it’s possible for weight loss to creep up. And, I have found for my senior TB, if you aren’t ahead of it, it’s tough to get it back on in the winter. I give her a good feel under the blankets every day, even if I don’t take them off.


Did I miss she’s an older horse?

It says it’s high calorie, though I don’t know what that means.

Yup, Hands On is the best gauge. :+1:

I got my Hackney Pony as a Giveaway from my shoer.
He had him boarded with a client who kept him mostly stalled for 2yrs.
I met pony in February - he was a fluff ball & skittish.
I was able to halter him & take him out for a quick spin on the longe to look at how he moved.
When I brought him in I was able to check & he was ribs & hipbones under a thick, wooly coat.

So yes, even blanketed, I check fatness.
& Blankets come off at least weekly if we’ve had a stretch of below-zero/wind chill days.
Otherwise blankets are off as soon as temps go into positive numbers & no heavy snow is falling.

That’s why you can’t rely on looks, you have to put hands on them on a regular basis. At least every 2 weeks, preferably weekly, and daily or several times a week is great. You feel under the blankets, that’s a good mom :slight_smile:

Even when I don’t have blankets on mine (they’re on as needed, not full time), I run my hands (near) daily over the sides of my old guy (31) since he’s wooliest, the most likely to get thin, and would be hard to get weight back on if he “suddenly” became ribby

I’ve seen a lot of horses (online, not in person) over the years where people are frantic to put weight on because they never realized their hairy, unblanketed horse “suddenly” has every rib easily felt under the hair :frowning: They thought he was fine since he looked fine.


I board retired horses, and I feed Triple Crown Senior, and think it is an excellent high quality feed. That said, I have never been able to get a too thin horse fat on it. I add a cup of Empower Boost (rice bran) to meals as a first step. I have also had luck, in tougher cases switching to Ultium Gastric Care (for a horse with ulcers who picked at feed, so not the OP’s situation). My vet has also recommended top dressing with Purina Well Gel, and it really works and puts a bloom on them, but it is expensive. Don’t know if any of this will help, but I pass it on.


We don’t have access to Triple Crown feeds in the Ottawa area. Trimax is the most dense calorie feed we have available to us right now. A lower sugar option in Purina (with the high fat content) would be Equilibrium XCEL HD. There’s more fat calories in these two than the Senior version. They’re said to be for hard keepers. My senior tb mare did well on Trimax.