Horses can become underweight for a variety of reasons. Some horses are just “Hard Keepers”, others are doing a lot of work. Still others have a problem. The most common problems that I see leading to weight loss are:
1. Parasites.
2. Dental problems.
3. Not getting enough to eat.
4. Medical problems.

If you do not know why your horse is underweight then consult with us. If you and your veterinarian have determined that more food is the next step, the following information is for you. You should see improvement in your horse’s weight within 30 days. If not, then see us again.


Forages are the pasture and hays that you feed your horse. Think of forages as the fiber in a horse’s diet. Horses were made to eat only forage. Forage and fiber is essential in keeping a healthy digestive tract. So start your feeding program with a generous serving of hay.

Usually you will feed your horse as much hay as it can eat. For a thin horse you can feed 2.5% of its body weight in hay every day. That means 25 pounds of hay each day for a 1000 pound horse. This should be a 2nd cutting local grass hay or grass/alfalfa mix. If you are feeding a lower quality hay (mature when cut or stemmy plants) you may not get enough food from this hay. You will need to add more calories through other sources, such as grain, beet pulp, hay pellets and fats.

If your horse has worn-out teeth, hay may not provide much food value and you will have to rely on alternative feeds. Though these are listed separately I usually suggest combining these in a way you and your horse can manage.


There are many grains and grain mixes available. There are a few guidelines that apply to all grains.

1. First you can feed ½ to 1 pound for each 100 pounds of body weight. That means a 1000 pound horse can eat 5 to 10 pounds of grain a day.

2. To prevent colics and digestive upsets, do not feed more than 5 pounds of grain at any one feeding.

3. A quart container holds about 1 pound of grain. The traditional “3 pound coffee can” is about one gallon volume and that is about 4 pounds of grain.

4. If your horse is getting too much grain, the first signs you will see are loose stools or possibly colic. If you notice this, cut the grain amount in half.

5. If your horse is not used to eating grain you need to start gradually. Start with about 2 pounds or 2 quarts of grain twice daily. As long as your horse is tolerating the grain, you can add 1 pound morning and night every 3 days up to the maximum of 5 pounds per feeding.

Choose a grain that is appropriate for your horse. If you feed a straight grain (like oats or corn) you should supplement with vitamins and minerals. If you use a grain mix, most of them will already have vitamins and minerals added.


Beet pulp is the residue left over from sugar production. Its food value is between hay and grain. It is very palatable (tasty) to most horses. It is a good source of digestible fiber with out the high sugar levels found in grains. Beet pulp should be soaked for 12 hours before feeding.

To feed beet pulp, start with 1pound (dry weight) and add 1pound every 3 days. Up to 3 pounds per feeding is a reasonable level to feed.


Fats are a very safe form of food to give a horse. Fats in horse diets should be vegetable oil, not animal fats. Any vegetable oil will do. Fats are very high in calories. A pound of fat will have over twice the calories a pound of grain will and fat will not cause colic or laminitis. It is easy to add fat to a diet when your horse is already eating all the feed you can get into them.

If you are trying to get weight on your horse, set a goal of 2 cups of oil per day for your horse. If necessary you can feed more, as long as your horse will eat it. You would start by giving ½ cup of oil at each feeding. Once the horse accepts the oil, increase it by ½ cup every 3 days until you are at your goal.

Be careful not to let the oil become rancid. Buy only what you will use within a couple of months. Throw out anything that smells bad.

Rice Bran is another form of fat. It is usually very palatable or tasty to the horse. If you are counting calories, 1cup of oil is equal to 5 cups of rice bran. Stabilized rice bran is the best. Unstabilized rice bran is cheaper, but varies on nutritional value and can contain molds and bugs.

Cool Calories is a very palatable granular product. It has the same calorie content as vegetable oil, just more palatable and not as messy.


There are a wide variety of complete rations available to horses. These are designed to be the only feed a horse eats. They are ideal for the horse with worn out teeth. They will be balanced for vitamins and minerals as well as easy to chew and digest. They usually contain a mixture of hay and grain. They are designed to be fed at 1.5% to 2.5% of body weight a day. This means you can feed 15 to 25 pounds of these rations per day as the horse’s only food. Of course you can still feed hay and feed smaller amounts of these rations.


Alfalfa and grass hays can be found as pellets and cubes. Realize they are simply small bales of hay. You can feed a horse pellets as its only food. You will need to feed 15 to 25 pounds of pellets daily if you do. Pellets are a good way to get hay into a horse with worn out teeth.


The following are examples of how these feeds may be combined to feed a thin horse:

Example 1: 1100 pound Thoroughbred mare in training
18 pounds hay
3 pound coffee can of LMF Showtime twice daily
1 cup of vegetable oil twice daily

Example 2: 900 pound Arabian gelding in training
15 pounds of hay daily
3 pound coffee can of LMF Performance twice daily
3 pound coffee can of alfalfa pellets once daily
8 cups of stabilized rice bran twice daily

Example 3: 20 year old gelding with bad teeth
10 pounds of 3rd cutting alfalfa hay daily
5 pounds of LMF Equine Senior twice daily
3 pounds of beet pulp daily
2 cups of oil twice daily

Example 4: 8 year old QH gelding 4H horse
25 pounds of grass/alfalfa hay daily
3 pound coffee can of COB
1 cup of vegetable oil daily
4 ounces of NW Horse Supplement

For more specific diets arrange a nutritional consultation with Dr. Foss.

Michael Foss D.V.M.

Hood River Alpine Veterinary Hospital
300 Frankton Road
Hood River, Or 97031
(541) 386-6658