Weight gain: horses that are easy keepers.

Popcorn is an easy keeper because he loves to eat. If his exercise and diet is managed well he is fine...but he does LOVE to eat.

Popcorn is an easy keeper because he loves to eat. If his exercise and diet is managed well he is fine…but he does LOVE to eat.

Do you have a horse that is an ‘easy keeper’?

An easy keeper would be defined as a horse that seems to gain weight when exposed to air or when they look at food.

Horses that gain weight easily usually fall into one of two categories: underworked/overfed or medical issue.

Popcorn here just loves to eat. He gains weight if I don’t watch that his intake doesn’t exceed his workload. If he isn’t being worked hard I will change the type of hay he is eating to something lower calorie and I feed a ration balancing feed that is low calorie while providing all of his vitamins and minerals. This often means that he is also turned out in the ‘diet’ pasture where he is with buddies that have the same issue.

If diet and exercise aren’t enough then I tend to suspect that the horse may have some medical issues that need to be addressed. It is possible for horses to have weight gain due to thyroid problems, Cushing’s Disease, or Metabolic Syndrome also known as insulin resistance. With proper diagnosis and treatment with a vet these horses can also achieve an ideal weight.

Have you ever had an easy keeper or a horse with a medical issue that caused weight gain? How did you handle it?


  1. kaitlyn on December 24, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    i have an 8 yr old that is such a hard keeper. Ive tried everything and nothing works, he is a very picky eater and doesnt like to eat his feed. I am currently feeding him blue bonnet feed and he is on uguard, someone please help.

  2. horseridingnovice on November 2, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    I’ve just taken on my first good doer, I have gone from a thoroughbred that needed 4kgs a day of conditioning mix to hold his weight with no exercise to an Irish sports that only has to look at a Hay net to pile on the pounds!

    I am desperately trying to ride as much as possible…but he’s also on walking exercise for another 2 weeks!! I have kept him on the same feed as the previous owner but we have an embarrassing amount of grass at the moment!

  3. Barley and I on November 2, 2014 at 2:36 am

    I have a six year old Quarter Horse which I have now for 3 years ( and 4 days). The first three years he was brought up in the middle of Sweden in a huge (almost 7,5 ac) pasture with access to food 24/7. When I got him and he was supposed to live in a box with turn out during the day, I did not want to change the food intake as well. Wild horses eat supposedly 16-18 hours a day, so I aquired a slow-feeding net. That net is either filled with 8-9 kg of hay or 14-15 kg of hay silage. No diet food here, since he is stabled at a farm that is breeding and so the riding horses receive the same food as the mares and weanlings. What I have found out, although I consider my horse to be easy feed, is that there is one big difference to the others. The other horses receive 4-5 times a day (at 7AM, 12AM, 3PM, 5.30PM and 9PM) a bag of hay or hay silage. Of course they also get the hay or silage with quite some big amounts of oats. Even in the pasture my horse gets a fair amount of hay silage (of course only when there is no grass to feed on anymore). While the other horses eat their “foodbags” within 10-15 minutes and then have to wait to the next feeding time, my horse can choose when to eat and when not. The slow feeding net installed in his box is rarely emptied. On normal days, so after normal workouts, he eats about (let’s keep to the hay for the sake of simplicity) 4-5 kg in the box and 3 kg in the pasture. On days were he rested (which still means about 45minutes of walk) he sometimes just eats 3kg of hay from the net. After hard work outs, e.g. after clinics, he might eat 7-8kg of hay. He is adjusting the amount of food, he feels he needs to take in, by himself. Once a day he also receives 100g of Irish Mash (not the one with the potatoes 😉 http://entest.hippolyt.com/advice-and-news/448-a-real-good-mash-what-does-that-mean ) and needed vitamins and minerals. People often forget about one important thing, the metabolism. Because I couldn’t explain why my horse sometimes chose not to eat as much as other times, I asked my vet. How she explained it to me, I really think that this is a working theorie. Horses can not produce saliva when they are not chewing, so stomach acid builds up (which can cause everything from being uncomfortable to ulcers). When there are long pauses between the feedings, the horse will eat fast and the metabolism will go down in a kind of survival mode. (A couple of days won’t change it, but years and years of the same pattern will). Which means that the horse will use the least amount of energy from the food to just stay alive (drastically speaking). When a horse is used to being able to access food 24/7 and the metabolism never had to go to any extreme, it’s much more likely that it’s on a normal level, which means, that the food is the source of energy supply and the energy is not taking from the body itself. And horses know quite well themselves, how much energy they actually need to take in or not. Or have you ever seen an obese wild horse? And I am not talking about a wild horse in the middle of the summer, when they are actually supposed to be fat, in order to be prepared for a rough winter. ;-).
    So, diet and excercise as well as the medical state of the horse needs to be considered, but I think it’s also important not to forget the eating behavior. In what “state of metabolism” is your horse when eating?

  4. Sharon Tharp on November 1, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Horses are trickle eaters. They are suppose to eat a low calorie high volume diet approximately 17 hrs a day. Horses that have a weight problem are usually being fed twice a day. Kind of a feast then a famine. Their metabolism is all all messed up. Being fed twice a day, or ok some get fed at noon too, but how about from their last meal till the morning meal are you up in the middle of the night feeding then? Approximately 20 mins after their last bite, their stomach that makes acid 24 hrs a day, is empty. Ever had heartburn, acid reflux? Think about it next time you take your horse out early afternoon, they are cranky and the last thing they are thinking about is pleasing you. Then they start feeding at the barn and all your (starving) horse can think about is the ache in his/her stomach and eating or chewing on something (barn, trees) is the only thing that will stop the acid burn. Porta-Grazer will let your horse eat their hay like a horse. Head down, small bites, torn with their teeth just like they are grazing I the pasture. This feeder will put weight on a skinny horse reduce the weight on the over weight horse. Read the testimonials on their Facebook page.
    Third cargo container just went to Austrilia to a huge race training facility. They have had NO COLICS in the 2 years using Porta-Grazer.

  5. LW on November 1, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    I have a welsh pony I ride/drive. She developed IR at about 4 yrs old. She’s 11 now. I manage her food intake to keep her in a general state of good health meaning she sometimes gets a bit overweight but never to the point of founder. Using electric fence I section off several “runs” which are rotated as needed. It’s handy to turn her out if I won’t be home to give hay 2x/day as I sometimes must do in winter, in extreme heat/drought, or when she’s too fat and really needs to loose a few extra pounds. (Wish someone could do that with me! LOL) I DO watch the seasons and really limit her in spring. Most turn out is done in dry summer or cold winter.
    The BEST thing I’ve ever done for her is to feed her Quiessence from Foxden Equine. It’s a supplement that helps balance out weight issues. Also calms her. I also like their flax based vitamin supplement but don’t feed either all the time due to cost. The weight issues seem to be more pronounced spring and fall. I also like to use Forco prebiotic for several months after I deworm everyone or if there’s some other stressful event…like a snake bite.
    I’ve also used a slow feed hay net (which I learned that she WILL NOT SHARE with anyone so I’ll need one per animal) as it seems to keep her occupied. If I only feed two flakes per day (AM & PM) she seems to feel hungry enough to strip bark off trees. Believe me she’s NOT thin but I don’t want her to be miserable and think she’s starving.
    When she’s working regularly, especially when both driven (for strength) and lunged with a martingale type device to help her round up, she really muscles up and shapes up nicely. Unfortunately, I can’t keep her in this condition all the time.
    My animals aren’t shown much due to time and finances BUT they are well cared for. It just makes me smile to see a horse with a thick shiny winter coat and a happy mind. 🙂

  6. Morgan Wilder on November 1, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    We have an IR broodmare who looks at grass and gets fat. She’s a great mare….she accepts wearing a muzzle in the spring when our grass is dangerous for everyone and especially for her. I keep her on a diet of 1st cut, alfalfa cubes and All-Phase. I’ll also add oil if she starts to get to thin closer to birthing. For the rest, slow feeder hay nets are our friend!

  7. Betty James on November 1, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    she is an easy keeper and we are having tying up issues…we don’t have the answers yet. Feeding Timothy hay, no grain, alfalfa pellets so I have something to put her supplements in. She has a large pen and round pen. I use a slow feeder.

    • Brad Gosnell on November 2, 2014 at 12:10 am

      More fat and protein and less grass would help. No alfalfa. Energy from fat and protein is more efficient than carbs. Start feeding HiPro and cut back on hay and stop the alfalfa and your tying up will very Likely stop.

  8. Angie Brandon on November 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    i have a 3 yr old gelding that I classified as an easy keeper, no matter how much his work load (I am a pen rider in a Feedyard so we constantly are working around and with cattle) his gut always seems to bounce back, after reading your article I wonder if I should have him checked for a medical condition. I did gorget to add that he gets only a certain amount of grain when I ride him and his run is also small with a grass bale I front 24/7

  9. Debra Lamer on November 1, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    My quarter horses are all easy keepers. All get Buckeye Gro-n-Win. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a low starch vitamin/mineral pellet with a low feeding rate. Not too rich of hay because we like them to keep long stem forage in their stomachs. We limit pasture time for the Cushings horse, and our insulant resistant horse can only be out on limited pasture certain times of the year & at that time he gets Heiro added to his daily ration to control his blood sugar. When he can’t be on pasture, I remove the string from a slow feed haynet, put a big snap on it, and throw it out in his paddock for the day. Most importantly, and sometimes hard to find time for, is exercise. We are diligent with all of this & we have had healthy horses for years.

    • LW on November 1, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      I fed Bermuda when I had broodmares but I’ve heard of more issues with this fine forage vs longer stem grasses. I now feed unfertilized mixed grass hay and have had no issues. Perhaps having an area large enough for the horse to self exercise is helpful also? I think Prebiotics are necessary also.

  10. Peggy Sue on November 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Slow feeder nets are our friend, ration balancer is the base for ALL my feeding then I add calories as needed, My mare is a special treat she is IR and has a slight case of COPD,

  11. Carlene on November 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    My fiancé and I both have mustangs and they are VERY easy keepers. They are on grass for 6hrs. a day, get a small flake of hay morning and evening 1/2 cup of All-Phase which is just vitamins morning and evening and I have to keep an eye on them and keep them exercised. My vet told me of a lady not far from us that has 2 mustangs just living on grass and they both foundered.

  12. Sarah Jacques on November 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Hey Stacy…

    My horse was actually the exact opposite… She lost weight (and muscle mass) like crazy… She was just diagnosed with Cushing’s on 9/3. Since starting her on a high fat, low sugar diet, unlimited hay and of course pergolide, she’s is a completely different horse already…

  13. Robin on November 1, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I have an insulin resistant horse that is also a hard keeper. It makes it lots of fun to keep weight on. His teeth are done but he can’t keep weight on with hay/grass alone. He gets a minimum of a cup of grain during the summer to quarts during the winter. It is at least something made for metabolic horses.

    • LW on November 1, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Is it high plant fat and low sugar? Just curious how they’d make grain for Metabolic horses.

  14. Darlene on November 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Is he getting lots of exercises?

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