How many Treats are Too Many?


In several discussions on feeding treats the comment was made "just don't feed too much". But how much is too much? My horse gets about 2kg of carrots a week. He is in very good condition, bordering on overweight. He also gets half a cup of sunflower oil per day. Should I cut that out?


Carrots are highly unlikely to cause your horse to become overweight, unless he was eating them all day every day! I would go slow on treats only because it may cause my horse to become too used to getting them and start nasty habits like nipping and temper tantrums to get at treats. Feeding carrots is great because not only do most horses love them, they are a great source of fresh vitamins, a high moisture content and are sure to put any horse in a wonderful mood at once! Often a horse feeling under the weather or recovering from illness won’t eat his regular meal but will tuck into a few carrots, which is great because it is better than nothing! I have never really seen a horse get sick from too many treats! Sticking to fresh treats like apples, carrots even a bit of brown bread should be fine.
Being overweight is really not a great thing for your horse because it puts him at risk for a number of serious health problems, not least of which is laminitis that could be life threatening. If you are feeding oil, I assume it is being put into a concentrate feed of some sorts. It is very tricky to give you advice on your feeding regime, as we would need a little more info from you such as what type of horse you have, what type of work he is doing, what exactly he is being fed and how much and how the grazing looks where he is turned out. Then it will be easier to see how your feeding regime is contributing to his being overweight. Please feel free to send us the details if you want a bit of advice.
We would have to see what ELSE he is getting in addition to the oil to make any comment about cutting it or not. I would take a serious look at his feeding program though, as being overweight is really not great, especially if you are noticing an increase in weight gain over a period of time. (ie he is getting fatter)

New Reply:

My boy is a crossbreed gelding, 8 years old. He gets ridden for a maximum of 3 hours a week - dressage, hacking and a bit of jumping. Once a week he is lunged for about 20 minutes. In summer there is very little grazing where I stable, grass in winter.
He gets 1.5 kg of Equifeeds drought meal in the morning. In the evening he gets 1.5 kg drought meal, 3 kg 12% Equifeeds meal (Maintenance I think) and a slice of oat hay. He used to get bran instead of the drought meal, but the bran has been unavailable for some time now.
At the moment he is bordering on overweight - you can take a look at him on the brag pages.
Is this diet balanced, and is he getting too much food? It would be easiest for me to change the quantities of what he eats, tricky to change the actual food.


For everyone out there’s benefit, I am going to do a ration calculation and let’s see how much it all adds up to. This is the scientifically correct way of calculating your horse’s daily ration, however I am going to simplify it a little here for your benefit. We are going to pretend that you want to drop a few kg’s off your boy…!

STEP ONE: Calculate the Horse’s Body Weight

There are a number of ways of doing this, however for the purpose of this calculation we are going to assume that your horse’s ideal weight is around 500Kgs. He looks to me to be about 15.3 to 16hh tall and is of big build. There is an interesting way of calculating your horse’s weight using his heart girth measurement and the length from his point of shoulder to point of buttocks.

The equation is as follows:

Bodyweight (kg) = heart girth (cm)² X length

This will give you an accurate measurement of his weight. Important to remember, your horse is overweight, so we are going to calculate his score based on what he should weigh! We are working towards an ideal – similarly, if your horse is underweight, you should ideally calculate according to what he should weigh and then increase your caloric value to cause an increase in weight. More about that later!

STEP TWO: Calculate your Horse’s Appetite

An adult horse will eat approximately 2.5% of his bodyweight in dry matter. It should always be your goal to feed not to the point of saturation, but at 2.5%, he will still be under his full appetite and will always finish his food. Some horses are always starving and others are picky eaters! You will need to take this into consideration when working out a ration for your horse too!

Appetite = bodyweight X 2.5

= 500 X 2.5

= 12.5 kg dry matter per day

Also remember, a horse out at green pasture will eat much more than 12.5 kg per day because the moisture content of the food is much higher.

STEP THREE: Calculating the Energy Required for Maintenance

The energy required to maintain your horse’s body relates to the amount of energy he needs just to keep all his systems functioning and to keep him alive. This number is measured in megajoules of digestible energy per day.

Energy for Maintenance = 18 + bodyweight (kg)
= 18 + 60

= 68 MJ DE/day

STEP FOUR: Calculating the Energy Required for Work

The energy that your horse needs to perform his daily work routine is calculated next. This is measured on a subjective scale of 1 though 8 – 1 being an hour of walking daily and 8 being racing. Rigorous schooling activity with trots, canters and some jumping every day measures a 4, so I am going to score your horse at a 3.

Energy for Work = work score X bodyweight (kg)
= 3 X 500

= 30 MJ DE/day

Your horse’s total energy requirement daily can now be calculated:

Total Daily Requirement = 68 MJ DE/day + 30 MJ DE/day
= 98 MJ DE/day

STEP FIVE: Forage to Concentrate Ratio

Depending on how hard your horse works, he is going to need more or less concentrate feed and less or more roughage (hay). As a general guide, a horse in light to medium work like yours should be getting about 70% of his energy daily from hay and 30% of his energy from concentrates. That means our ratio of forage to concentrate will be 70:30. Now we need to calculate exactly how much energy will be provided by each component.

Energy from Hay = 98 X 70
= 68.6 MJ DE from hay (round off to 69)

Energy from Concentrates = 98 X 30
= 29.4 MJ DE from concentrates (round off to 29)

STEP SIX: Calculating the Daily Ration

The next step in our ration formulation is to convert the energy values into actual physical weights so that we know how much to feed. This requires information on the actual feedstuffs.

We know that the average crude protein in Eragrostis hay ranges quite a bit during the year and is also dependant on the way it was grown and harvested, and is around 4.5% at its lowest during mid-summer and 17.5% at its peak in early spring. (Strickland, 1973) Let’s say you are feeding a good quality Eragrostis, with a crude protein level of 8%, and a Digestible Energy score of 8 MJ/Kg. Teff is slightly higher in crude protein, at around 11% to 14% average and a Digestible Energy Score of around 9 MJ/Kg. Lucerne has a crude protein of around 16% - 18% and a Digestible Energy Score of also around 9 MJ/Kg. The best way of determining these values is by sending samples of your hay to be analysed.

To keep this simple, let’s assume your horse is being fed Eragrostis. We now use the Energy from Hay calculation we just did to work out the weight of hay to be fed.

Weight of hay to be fed/day = Energy from Hay
Digestible Energy Score

= 69
= 8.63 kg per day

To work out how much one average bale of your hay weighs, use a spring balance (one of those scales they use to weigh fish that the guys have caught – scale with a hook on it) or try weighing yourself holding the bale minus just you on your own!

Now we need to calculate how much concentrate feed your horse requires. For this we need to refer to the dietary info provided on the feed label.

I have studied Equifeed’s product range again and do not find the ‘Drought meal’ you are referring to, however let us go on the assumption that it is similar to the 12% Maintenance Mix, or that your horse is only receiving the 12% Maintenance Mix. This will have a Digestible Energy Score of approximately 10 MJ/kg of energy.

Weight of concentrates to be fed/day = Energy from Concentrates
Digestible Energy Score

= 29
= 2.9 kg per day

Now, let’s see what happens if we add a cup of sunflower oil to this mix. (Bearing in mind that vegetable oil has a Digestible Energy Score of 35 MJ/kg and that one cup of sunflower oil weighs approximately 0.24kg) One cup of oil will have 8.4 MJ DE. If we subtract this from the 29 MH DE that your horse requires daily, that leaves us with a total of 20.6 MJ DE.

Weight of concentrates to be fed/day = Energy from Concentrates
Digestible Energy Score

= 20.6
= 2 kg per day

This brings the total amount of concentrates that your horse should be getting to 2kg.

Our final ration looks something like this:

Daily, your horse should be getting almost 9kg of good quality Eragrostis, 2kg of 12% concentrates and 1 cup of sunflower oil. This falls just under our original appetite calculation of 12.5 kg dry matter. So far so good! What is also interesting to note is by how much one can decrease the concentrate feed when you increase the caloric value by adding oil!

STEP SEVEN: Checking the Protein Levels

If you are using a good quality feed, then your ration should be meeting your horse’s daily protein requirement. A horse in light to medium work like yours should be getting around 7.5% to 8.5% crude protein in his ration. Crude protein estimates the total protein content of a feed. When measuring crude protein, the nitrogen content of a feed sample is determined . Since proteins contain 16% nitrogen on average, the nitrogen value is multiplied by a factor of 6.25 to calculate the crude protein content of the feed. Since crude protein level includes both true protein (amino acids) and non protein nitrogen, it does not provide information regarding the quality or availability of the protein in a particular feed. That is important to know because people often confuse crude protein of a whole ration with the amount of protein indicated on the concentrate food label.

Protein in Our Ration:

Feed Qty (kg) Protein Content (%) Protein in Ration (g)

Eragrostis Hay 9kg 8% 72g
Maintenance Meal 2kg 12% 24g
11 kg 96g

(I did not include the oil in this calculation as it has no dry matter weight, nor does it contain any protein)

The percentage of protein in this ration is 96 = 8.7 %

Bearing in mind that the quality of protein in the Eragrostis hay will be quite variable and might fall to slightly less than our estimate of 8%, the total protein of the ration falls within acceptable levels. During months where the quality of hay really drops, adding a small slice of lucerne to a feed will help pick up the protein levels. For the obese horse however, this is not a great idea!

STEP EIGHT: Check and Adjust the Ration

Every horse is different, and I would venture that every horse will respond differently to any given ration. Your horse is naturally of slower metabolism, a good doer and in good health. I would like to see him lose just a little weight, as being obese is not only unhealthy, it puts serious strain on his limbs and joints. After about three weeks, you should get an idea of how the ration is affecting him. What you want is a very slow but noticeable weight loss – not too fast, or you put him at risk for serious health problems! If he loses weight too quickly, you can increase the concentrate feed by small increments at a time (less than 0.5 kg) wait a week or two and see if his weight loss has stabilized.

If he still is not losing weight, you should consider one of the following options:

Reduce the amount of hay you feed during the day while he is out. It helps if there is a bit of average to poor grazing in the paddock, as he will nibble on that which will keep him busy. You can also get creative and put toys out for him, like hanging treats in a tree (Like apples) for him to get at. Make a teff net for him with smaller holes – that way he has to work twice as hard to get the hay out!

Try to increase the amount of exercise he is getting – long slow walks are great because you are not stressing his limbs and he is still getting a workout – when he is fitter, you can do long sessions of slow trot too if the ground allows it. Alternatively, ask the stable manager to lunge him one or two extra days per week.

Horses on diet can feel pretty crabby, just like us! The best is to ignore it, try to keep him mentally stimulated and be patient!

Once he is at an ideal weight, you can slowly increase the amount of hay he is getting again to the 9kg - 11kg, and if that still has him losing condition, up your oil to 1 ½ cups per day or even 2 cups per day.

I would also always be sure to give him access to a salt lick, as well as a good vitamin and mineral lick or supplement with a good all round vitamin supplement. (But please remember that overdosing on a supplement can be even worse than having a deficiency! Just because one scoop of a product works well, it does not mean that two will be even better! Also, spread out the supplement over all his feeds, not just in one.) You can keep on feeding him carrots with his meals, since cutting his concentrate by 1kg (if you choose to do so) is going to leave him quite depressed! If he is really sulking – toss in a small handful of molasses meal with every feed too.
I hope this has given you a slight idea of what to feed your horse, and also gives you an idea of how much thought and planning actually should go into deciding what to feed your horse! The ration is quite basic, but I wanted to explain the principles without getting too technical – every ration has to be flexible – quality changes and so does your horse’s own body! I also wanted to reinforce how important it is to actually weigh the amounts of food your horse is ingesting – one coffe tin of one thing does not equal one tin of something else – neither does one scoop necessarily weigh one kg! Also remember to make any changes gradually, to give his gut time to adapt!

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