Thoroughbreds are generally one of the most high maintenance breeds in terms of weight. They are so delicate and fragile. I consider myself lucky that Eve for whatever reason was an outlier to that skinny Thoroughbred stereotype for most of her life. It wasn’t until 2018 when she was 27 that she started having trouble keeping on weight. It took a couple years to get her back to her chonky self, and there were a few reasons why she lost weight and had a hard time gaining it back. If you have a hard keeper, maybe some of these things will work for you – maybe not, but I thought I’d share our journey since a lot of horses – especially older ones – have weight problems.
The Very Beginning
Fall of 2018 is when I started noticing Eve becoming leaner. She wasn’t at all underweight, but she was definitely a lean thoroughbred. Usually she’s very round, but she was starting to lose that. I didn’t think anything of it until our barn owner kept saying how Eve looked so skinny despite the fact she was getting a ton of food a day. That’s when I got worried because if Eve was getting I think it was 2 or so large scoops of food a day and was still not gaining, then that was a problem. It wasn’t like her to eat so much and not gain. This place also had a ton of grass, and Eve always blew up when she was on lush grass.
So how does a horse all of a sudden start losing weight when being on the same diet for years? Many would assume it’s just old age and s### happens. Nothing we can do 😦 Well, that’s what I thought, until I found out Eve was getting less than a scoop of grain a day in the fall leading up to winter. Like bro. Feed a horse less. Horse loses weight. Science. So it wasn’t Eve’s biology that was making her lose weight. It was the fact she wasn’t being fed enough.
So that’s pro tip #1 for you. Check to make sure your barn is feeding your horse exactly what they’re supposed to be feeding. It happens far too often. I’ve seen it at other barns too that I worked at (one was actually a rescue I volunteered at…). The barns will cut the rations in half in order to save money, and the horses all look skinny af.
The Failed Attempt
We were kind of f###ed going into this winter because Eve was already lean from being underfed. I like Eve to be really fat going into winter because she inevitably loses weight during the season. But if she was already skinny going in, we were screwed. We had changed barns, and I told them to lay it on thicc. She was getting 3 heaping quarts of senior twice a day. It was harder to keep track of her progress because her winter coat was so thick and masked how skinny she was(she has Cushing’s). So actually seeing her weight gain was difficult.
Our new barn didn’t have much grass in the field, so that would account for the slow progress we saw while Eve lived here. Instead, she got unlimited hay (that Eve didn’t always eat because of the quality and the fact that she’s a picky eater) and lots of senior feed. After a week of getting 6 quarts of food a day – the maximum our barn could give us before charging extra – Eve started to get a bit chubbier. I was hoping feeding her more would fix the problem. I wanted to hold off on putting Eve on a weight supplement because she gets fat very fast under the right circumstances. Eve had never been on a weight supplement before because she never needed one, so I wasn’t sure how she’d react. My previous horse who I just fostered was put on a weight supplement and became very, very fat very, very quickly. So I saw what they could do, and it’s easier to gain weight than to lose it. I wanted to reach a nice balance. Having Eve be overweight was just as bad has having her be underweight. Eve kept getting the 6 quarts a day with unlimited hay for a couple months just to see if that would do it. She kind of reached a plateau where she stopped gaining and just maintained the leanness.
****I should mention Eve was dealing with bad arthritis from her small stall in this barn. It required us to do light exercise in the indoor every night in the freezing cold, so her weight wasn’t the highest priority at the time. Because I was focused on her soundness, the progress pics of her weight gain are few and far in between.****
Our barn noticed she was lean and offered to add Purina 10/10 into her feed to see if it helped her gain weight. It was higher in fat than her senior. I was like sure why not? And if it doesn’t work, we can just take it out. It was only supposed to be a little bit added. However, Eve reacted horribly. And thus we were left with this. And keep in mind, she has her full on winter coat, so she’s even more skinny than what you see here. If her ribs are protruding through her thick winter coat, it’s very bad.
It was beyond irritating that this happened. We had made such good progress and then it was just gone. The feed change gave her massive diarrhea and made her lose even more weight than we initially started with. So that was great. It’s my fault though. It was winter, so she was covered with a blanket most of the time. I was so focused on helping her arthritis issue, that I didn’t spend nearly enough time on her weight issue.
After this, I was like ok, we definitely need some weight supplement in here. I waited a bit before starting her on one though. I wanted to give her innards a break from that hellish experience.
1 Week Later…
After just one week on her regular 6 quarts of senior food, she was getting back to how she looked before. Still skinny, but definitely not emaciated like she looked prior. Senior feed alone showed progress, but it was such slow progress. In the dead of winter, I felt it was safe to put Eve on a weight supplement finally. Especially since she had looked so awful just a week before. I didn’t want her to ever look like that again.
The Weight Supplement
People were giving me a ton of different weight supplements. I went with MannaPro Weight Accelerator on Amazon. I had fed Eve a lot of MannaPro brand stuff before and had good results with them. The Weight Accelerator was only $20-35 for a month’s worth, so it was pretty affordable. I started her on it a week after the above photo. So mid-March. It was slow progress, but we definitely saw progress. She got 1.5 scoops once a day every day.
This was after being on the weight supplement for almost 3 months. She started filling out and getting that chonk. It was spring time at this point, so there was a little bit of grass, but not much. There was hardly any grass in Eve’s field because it was so small, so the barn fed horses hay all year round. She was still lean, but slowly getting to a more acceptable weight. I didn’t want Eve to be overweight, but for an old lady, I really wanted her to be closer to a body score of 6 instead of a 4.
Months later we kept trekking on. She started looking really good finally. The grass pictured is not the grass that was in her field. I let her graze outside her field sometimes because there wasn’t much in her field at all.
The weight supplement definitely worked a lot better in the spring/summer than it did in the winter. In the winter, the progress was really minimal. I was pleased with how she looked, but I wanted her to be fatter going into winter given that the past winter she had lost so much weight.
2019 Winter Fail
As you can see, she definitely lost weight during the winter despite our best efforts. Our barn blanketed pretty heavily which helped her a bit with maintaining her weight. But her hay, feed and weight supplement together were never going to be able to maintain her ideal weight throughout the winter. Plus the hay at this barn wasn’t the best. I would go up and there would be days Eve just wouldn’t be eating the hay in the middle of winter. Eve is picky about her hay anyway, but none of the other horses were eating the hay either. So the shite hay selection most definitely also contributed to her weight loss. If she’s not getting good, quality hay and no grass, then weight loss is inevitable. The barn also didn’t soak Eve’s food like they were supposed to. I’d go up and find Eve’s weight supplement in dry powder form at the bottom of her food bucket. So I’m not exactly sure how much of the weight supplement she was actually eating. If she wasn’t eating her weight supplement regularly, that also contributed to her weight loss.
Thankfully, we left that barn in 2020 for reasons unrelated to her weight issue. We moved temporarily to a friend’s place where there was an abundance of green grass and fresh hay. Eve was still on her weight supplement.
At this point, her weight was not my biggest priority because finding permanent housing was on the top of my list. I wasn’t expecting to fix Eve’s weight issue at our friend’s place, but the grass, quality hay, feed and weight supplement could definitely help a bit in getting Eve back to where she needed to be.
After we found a permanent place to keep Eve, she gained all her weight back so fast. The grass at this place is just incredible. Eve is finally off her weight supplement FOREVER – at least I hope forever. The barn is feeding exactly what she’s supposed to be getting, they give quality hay that Eve generally eats (she was a picky hay eater when she first got there…), and she’s in love with the grass. She blew the F up. She was the fattest she’d been in years. It was like she was her old self again! I was so excited. She was actually gaining so much weight, they had to cut back her feed.
Getting Through the Winter
This winter, Eve was well prepared. She was a chonkster, a Big Mac, a buffalo, an extra large potato. I wasn’t expecting her to maintain all of that chonk through winter. I tried my best blanketing appropriately. Since she is so fat, she requires less blanketing. But how much less is too much less that she loses weight? You know? Trying to blanket so that she maintains her weight and doesn’t overheat is a struggle. But I find it’s best to underblanket and lose a couple pounds than overblanket and overheat like at our previous barn who blanketed all the effing time. Thankfully, Eve can afford to get underblanketed now because she has so much extra junk in the trunk.
Even though blanketing this winter was a struggle, Eve definitely is still looking the best she’s ever looked coming out of winter. Winter here is – god willing – almost over. And you can tell Eve has definitely lost some weight, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as the two previous years. This will be the first year at age 29 that Eve has successfully maintained her weight through winter!
Takeaway #1: While Eve’s weight supplement didn’t get Eve to her ideal weight, it definitely helped keep her from reverting back to her emaciated look through the winter. I probably could’ve also given her more weight supplement or added something else to her food, but I wanted to keep it simple. And I was still terrified of her becoming obese – because as you can see in the pics above, under the right circumstances she does seriously blow the F up like a balloon. And it is much harder to lose weight than to gain! So now that Eve has extra weight, we have to do light exercise/riding this spring/summer.
Takeaway #2: Without grass, Eve is a hard keeper. The pics show what this horse looks like with no grass. People had suggested I give Eve alfalfa as a substitute, but Eve was a founder case so alfalfa is a no-no. But our last barn had hardly any grass and pretty terrible choice hay, so Eve had it rough. The hay wasn’t bad all the time, but if 2 days out of the week, Eve’s not eating hay in her stall because the bale is bad, it’s going to affect her body weight.
Takeaway #3: When Eve started dropping weight, everyone told me “well, she IS 27 years old. It happens.” If you have a horse that is generally an easy keeper, then all of a sudden is not an easy keeper, investigate. I knew Eve would gain back all the weight she had lost over the years; I just didn’t know how we were going to do it. But I knew it was possible under the right circumstances. And we found those circumstances. It’s a competent staff, a consistent feeding schedule, quality hay and lots of grass. But don’t let anyone tell you that your horse can’t gain weight anymore because they’re old. That’s some grade A bullsh*t.