Weanling Growth Question

I have an AQHA weanling that I bought as a performance horse prospect. I am very happy with how he looks and is growing. This weekend, I took him to my trainers for trimming. We placed him in a stall next to their weanlings. He was born April 2nd, compared to Feb and March for theirs. I was shocked! He is huge and looked like a mature horse! I think I remember reading an adage about a young horse that matures quickly but I cannot remember what it was. Just wondering if anyone remembers.

What have you been feeding him? Growth is based on nutrition. Some people throw their youngsters in a pasture, let them pick at the pasture all winter and feed some grain. The youngsters might get ribby and will mature slower than a horse that is well fed. Sometimes the mare produces less milk, or doesn’t allow unlimited nursing, giving you a smaller foal.

My colt at 9 months old is bigger than some yearlings I saw for sale. I’m guessing he’s going to be at least 15 hands, and possibly over that, even though both his parents are 14.2 hands. He is definitely going to be oversized. I’m guessing the extra height comes from the mare’s bloodlines. Sometimes height throws back to the grandsire/granddam, at least from what I have seen.

Horses can grow at different rates, depending on genetics and nutrition. That said, you want to make sure that you are providing adequate nutrition, especially for the fast growers. It used to be advised to limit energy to fast growing/large maturing types, but I think the current thought is that feeding too much energy without proper protein, vitamins, and minerals is what causes OCDs and other bone issues in young horses. I like Buckeye GroNWin ration balancer for youngsters and my broodmare, but there are plenty of good ones out there!

Thanks y’all. He is getting Ultium Growth and Timothy hay. I just upped his feed since he hit a growth spurt. He gets as much hay as he wants. I do not know what the others get, however, I was just shocked at how much more mature he looked. I am hoping he is 15 hands. His full brother and sister are 14.1 and 14.3 but mom is 15 hands and dad is 14.2 I think.

I would be conservative on how much Ultium you are feeding, especially if your hay is good.

I was very conservative in the amount of grain I fed my youngsters but provided plenty of high quality hay and unlimited room to move. Never any issues with growth and most surpassed both parents in height.

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Short of stunting, you aren’t going to significantly slow a youngster’s growth rate by limiting feed, nor should you. As pointed out above, inadequate or unbalanced nutrition is more strongly linked with developmental disorders than simply excess calories.

Ultium Growth is a good feed. Not every youngster thrives on just a ration balancer. The only school “keep them thin” advice is no longer advocated by those of us in the nutrition field. Babies should be maintained at a BCS of 4.5-5.5 as much as possible.

OP, some of them are just more precocious than others. And some seem to grow more evenly than the “see-saw” butt then withers pattern, which can make them look more mature than the latter type. If your guy is growing at a steady rate, is in an appropriate body condition, and is getting at least the recommended amount (which is 0.75% of body weight in the case of Ultium Growth) of a quality feed balanced for growing horses, then you’re on the right track. The other youngsters you were looking at may be genetically predisposed for a slightly slower or less even growth rate, or they may be on a lower quality feeding program, or both. It’s hard to say without seeing them in person.


I will continue to feed him as needed, I do not plan on skimping on his feed or hay. He is a high level cowhorse prospect, so I need him to be strong. I do not want to stunt his growth, but was just shocked how the other weanlings looked! Thanks everyone!

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Growth can really depend on the individual and genetics. I have 3 just-turned yearlings, March 3 colt, May 4 colt, and Feb 16 filly. The March colt is a little large, but average for his age and damline. The May colt is a little taller than the Feb filly, amd has been since October, despite being three months younger. He is going to be a BIG horse (17h?) and she is going to be a small horse (15h?) at maturity. Their dams are 16.1 and 16h… but the colt’s 2nd dam is over 17h, so his 16.1 mother throws big. The filly is also her mother’s first foal, which sometimes is smaller than a multiparous mare (sometimes they catch up, sometimes they don’t).

They all eat the same diet, free choice O/A, beet pulp and balancer; all are in excellent weight with no growth issues. It’s mostly genetic…by 8-12 months the horses who will be big are noticeably outgrowing the smaller ones.

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True --but you don’t want them growing too fast or to be too heavy either. The “recommendations” on feeding amounts are just that and how much you actually feed depends on the individual youngster.

Growing too fast has it’s own set of issues.

I’m an equine nutritionist.

Feed label recommendations are based on the amount of feed required to meet NRC requirements for a given class of horses, assuming a certain amount of an average quality hay is also being fed. Thus, there is no set in stone feeding rate, but, unless you are having your forage analyzed and having someone like me go over your ration with a critical eye, you should always feed at least the minimum labeled amount - for the OP’s feed, this is 0.75% of body weight - or switch to a product with a lower feeding rate so that you can be confident you are meeting the animal’s requirements. This is why there is no one single “best” horse feed out there for every animal.

I didn’t say the animal should be kept “too heavy”. I said it should be maintained at a BCS of 4.5-5.5. Very, very often, people proclaim that growing horses should be kept “ribby” - BCS 4 or less - to prevent developmental issues. This is not only contrary to research but potentially setting animals up for serious nutrient deficiencies.


I’ve never owned a “ribby” horse or growing youngster ( ever!).

I didn’t say OP should withhold the feed her young horse needed. I was just cautioning them to feed by the needs of her young horse and that may mean less feed then the bag says, at times .

Especially if the horse is getting heavy. It may mean a growth spurt is coming but any feeding should be monitored almost daily for horses of any age based on their condition. Then adjusted as needed.

Young ,old or in-between makes no difference. It can be eye opening at how many horse owners do not have the ability to see when a horse is too heavy or too thin. You just can’t feed blindly off the bag was my advice.

No one is advocating that. But you also shouldn’t just blindly feed LESS than the minimum (not average/suggested, but minimum) feeding rate, unless you have a forage analysis that shows a lower feeding rate will still meet your horse’s needs. If the horse is too easy a keeper to be fed the minimum feeding rate for a specific product, then a different product, like a ration balancer, is called for.

Edited to add: The OP’s youngster isn’t heavy, by her report. Just taller and more mature than others. Nothing she posted indicates that a reduction in feed is called for.


Correct…he looks like a mature horse and not a 'baby." He is not overweight at all. He just hit a growth spurt and was a little lean, so I upped his feed and hay. I am actually very happy with how he currently looks. I just hope he tops out at 15 hands! LOL!!! I do follow the directions on the bag and adjust as needed. I do the same with hay…


Actually, no. Those recommendations are based on the nutritional requirements for that horse, based on age, weight, work (and work includes growth, breeding, actual work)

Every single fortified feed is aimed at filling in the worst of the nutritional gaps left by the average forage they are aiming to serve. Some are national formulas, so do a better job in some areas than others. Some national companies produce some more localized formulas, but even then, they do a better job with some forages than others. It’s all about averages.

Feed 3lb of a feed meant to be fed at minimally 6lb for that horse, and there’s a good chance you’re leaving him short on something.

All that is entirely independent of the horse’s calories needs, which the company has no idea about. 2 1200lb horses doing all the same things, the same age, can have entirely different calorie needs, so where one might need only a ration balancer, the other might need 8lb of a regular feed

Do not feed the easy keeper 1lb of a feed meant to be fed at 8lb just because 8lb would make him fat. It’s the wrong feed.

And for SURE don’t feed the hard keeper 8lb of a ration balancer to get more calories into him. It’s the wrong feed.


One of the worst things you can do to growing horses, especially in this younger, faster-growing stage, is reduce proper nutrition for the sake of reducing calories.

This is why I like using a ration balancer as a base for growing horses, at least those who have not proven they need a lot more calories all the time. Ration balancers are already fed at a higher rate to weanlings and yearlings, than adults, and it’s a lot more on a weight basis. Meaning, the calorie contribution is more significant to the weanling/yearling, than to even a 3yo.

Then if they need a boost, use forage pellets (alfalfa is great if you feed grass forage), or beet pulp, or a fat supplement. You can increase/decrease those as growth spurts make them heavier or leaner

Do not feed 3lb of a feed that should be fed at 6lb just because he’s gotten a little heavy.

Separate calories and nutrition. Don’t over-feed nutrition in an effort to get more calories in, and don’t under-feed nutrition in an effort to reduce calories.

Nobody said blindly feed off the bag, but everyone DOES need to understand WHY the bags says to feed X pounds, and WHY it’s not a good idea to feed less.

The ONLY time to feed less is if you have an actual forage analysis, and a full diet analysis has proven that only 3lb of that feed does a great job balancing that forage for that horse with that set of criteria (age, weight, work)


Excellent hay is proper nutrition. Not feeding subpar hay and filling in the gaps with pounds of fortified feed. That way of doing things is not how It was done in the past and I don’t see that our horses are reaping the benefits of it today.

Metabolic issues, ulcers and who knows what else seemed to have morphed out of control along with this newer method of " progress"… Back then it was not .

The best hay in the world doesn’t have any, or enough Vit E

The “best hay” can’t get out of the soil what isn’t in the soil

And despite some hays being really high quality in all kinds of ways, not everyone has access to said hay.

If all you can GET is sub-par hay because of a craptastic drought that has been the mid-west for a few years is all you can get, then that’s all you can get - what would you suggest? I have friends who have had to jump through hoops to balance craptastic grass hay the last 3-4 years because that’s all there IS out there. So yeah, they do have to fill in gaps, and that does not equate to “pounds of fortified feed”, especially when they have minis who get fat on air, and babies to raise who can’t get overweight.

You really think that the old way of feeding oats and corn to hard working horses, is still ok to feed to non/light-working horses today? Do you not understand that the old way of feeding oats on top of grass forage is what caused the “creating” of Big Head Disease? Do you not understand that the old way of tossing pounds of whole grains into working drafts is what started opening eyes to the idea of PSSM1?

Do you really not understand that research proves that under-fortifying mare and foal rations is what causes a variety of DOD issues in foals? What were those rations? Grass forage and whole grains.

Do you honestly think IR is a modern disease? 40 years ago horses in the barn I grew up in were IR and foundered on sweet feed, and back then, it was basically a death sentence. Decades before that, PPID an IR most definitely existed, and if that took the horse out of work, then he was shot or otherwise disposed of because he couldn’t work.

Do you really think ulcers didn’t exist before the invention of fortified commercial feeds? I assure you, they did, but if the horse wasn’t stoic enough to just deal with it, he was culled, or was treated as a “bad horse” until he couldn’t take it and hurt someone, and then he was kicked down the road, or into the ground.


“Excellent hay” is (a) hard to find, (b) not defined by visual appraisal, and © never perfect from a mineral nutrition standpoint.

Horses used to be considered “old” at age 15. Our standards for soundness were substantially lower than they are now. The “good old days” were hardly perfect.


Never said any of these conditions didn’t exist . I really do think the way horses are fed today contributes to to the overall increase in so many of these issues.

Kind of like we are feeding them like we feed ourselves and that isn’t working for the US population as a whole either. Insulin resistance, obesity , diabetes is on the rise in people too.

No matter what you believe the health of our horses today has changed.

Maybe where you came from or maybe the horse people you were associated with had lower quality standards for soundness/ longevity but not mine. We had plenty of horses in their 20’s and even a 30+ year old mare doing walk/ trot riding lessons for young kids .

No hay is perfect and it never has been. That doesn’t mean it is always in the horses best interests in the long run to feed so much other feed and supplements instead of finding better hay.