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Feeding the event horse with the "less is more" philosophy

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  • Feeding the event horse with the "less is more" philosophy

    I'm interested to hear what people think/do about this. I was at a high end h/j/big Eq barn today and got to talking to the trainer about her feeding program, which was remarkably simplistic but effective. Basically, it amounted to as much very high quality hay as the horses will eat (big ol' like on this- saw the hay. I'd eat it), a pretty basic ration balancer in the AM, and Blue Seal's "Mite-A-Vite" in the PM, and some amount of soy oil. Her horses were lovely, shiny, and very, very happy (considering I was there to show Vernon, this made me VERY happy as a potential home for him).

    This is obviously a program that is working for these high end hunters and jumpers. The boss and I were talking about it on the way home and I was wondering if a program THAT simple could keep good weight on our horses but also give the higher level/harder working horses enough energy (I am sure it would work on the majority of our BN/N horses since they are all pretty easy keepers). He's skeptical, but he also admits that he is very old school (MORE FOOD!!!!). I don't know what to think.

    For the record, while I feed more than this trainer does, even my hard keepers get a lot less feed than a lot of other peoples "normal" keepers, and I try to base everyone's diets on lots hay, unless they must lose significant weight. But the simplicity of this program intrigues me.


  • #2
    Neither of my horses were really performance horses, but the most I ever fed was to my 2 yo growing TB cross, who ate about 2 lbs of strategy once a day. I also always pasture board. I like them to be out, and honestly, I think they are healthier that way. They stay on maintained pastures, and were supplemented in pasture with hay when needed. But I'm totally one of those who thinks less is more when it comes to concentrates.
    You can't fix stupid.... but you can breed it!


    • #3
      My intermediate horse (currently ** fit) gets a handful of a 12% sweet feed and a cup of platinum performance twice a day with free choice coastal hay and 1/2 flake alfalfa twice a day. She is also turned out 6 hours a day.

      She looks awesome, has plenty of energy, etc.

      I am a big believer in less is more, although I know not every program suits every horse
      For all your dog needs visit:


      • #4
        "Less grain, more hay", in all ways, a good philosophy. I remember feeding a *lot* of grain back in the '70's and 80's (we didn't know better back then, also didn't know about ulcers. And a lot of other stuff.) Hunter folks back then fed TONS of sweet feed, myself included (runs, screaming, hides head in shame.) Even in Pony Club, we fed WAY more concentrates than most people do today--we didn't know any other way to feed, tradition, stupidity, etc.

        Basically, GOOD hay, fed free choice (this is when and if you can find it! Helps to do an analysis on your hay, so you know what it's missing) and supplements (like Accel) in order to balance the nutrients they receive (most easy keepers need *only* good quality hay/grass and a ration balancer), and pasture. Most pasture--at least around our area--is so grazed down that you can't sustain a horse on it. Especially not an event horse, who will need hay AND probably additional vitamins and a source of fat and additional carbohydrates, unless it is a LL horse or a Draftie.

        Feeding fat has NO downside, unless the horse is already fat and doesn't need additional calories. I like ground Flax (from Horsetech), but some of my students use oil to add feed to the diet. Obviously alternative fat sources are beet pulp and rice bran. Preferred oil sources are *not* pure corn oil because it contains more Omega 6 than Omega 3 (but you already know all of this, I'm sure! )

        The hunter folks like 'em fat, eventers less so Anyway, the hunter horses tend to expend fewer calories (unless they are being longed into the ground), and they certainly don't do trot/canter sets or conditioning hack or hillwork on a regular basis. Personally, I like to see a little more flesh than many eventers, who like that "long lean TB appearance", but this *can* be achieved with great forage, and plenty of it! (And I have two Whippets; that's about as much long and lean as I would like to look at, and these two are in GOOD flesh--too good, if we are talking Sighthound purists )
        "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

        "It's supposed to be hard...the hard is what makes it great!" (Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own")


        • #5
          My trainer owns multiple horses that have run Prelim and Intermediate and every level below. We feed homegrown hay, sweetfeed, and the very active event horses got Advantage during show season. That's it.
          Tru : April 14, 1996 - March 14, 2011
          Thank you for everything boy.

          Better View.


          • #6
            I've become kind of a back to basics feeder since my mare unequivocally told me a few years ago that even basic 10% pellets had to much extra stuff in them for her to be sane...thankyouverymuch!

            So...she gets all the good quality hay she can eat (about 25-30 pounds daily), beet pulp, alfalfa pellets (1 to 2 ratio, all soaked) plus 1 pound stabilized rice bran daily. She's getting about 2 qts dry volume alfalfa pellets and 1 qt beet pulp dry volume daily right now. She gets a vitamin/mineral supplement to balance everything out since this is not a "complete feed" and ensure the calcium/phosphorus stays good. It's a lot of food, all blown up and soaked, but it's not "concentrated" so she can eat it slowly or quickly and it basically digests like hay for her.

            She is a HARD keeper in that she needs her forage, but will not tolerate processed grains to fatten her up. So, I'm loving this diet. I can see what she's eating, it's basically all forage, the protein from the alfalfa builds muscle and the fat from the rice bran gives her the extra calories she needs to keep building it and not steal from her muscle building to stay warm. This is the first winter in 4 years that she has not dropped significant weight...but I also decided to blanket her like it's the arctic And, she's a hot horse, but the alfalfa doesn't seem to stress her out. Last winter, this diet helped her gain about 200 pounds over the winter after we moved from the barn that quit believing in hay and she plummeted while on stall rest in about 3 weeks. Thanks guys!

            My little guy gets 8 qts whole oats and a few handfuls alfalfa pellets (all soaked) daily plus lots of hay. He's still growing like a weed, so while he's putting on muscle, he's not getting fat yet Also minerals for him.

            I'm basically to the point where I will use those four feeds, plus barley if needed (All hot soaked) for whatever horse I have. Rice bran for fat and vitamin mineral supps to round it out. Now that's not a simple as a scoop of sweet feed, but I truly believe it's healthier and more in the vein of what they want to eat.

            Some horses may have a hard time transitioning to this right away, especially if they have always eaten molasses based feeds. The loss of sugar will make the food taste a little bland at first I think. but...eventually they get past that. And, the alfalfa/oats combo helps combat ulcers...plus all that hay
            Thoroughbred Placement Resources, Inc


            • #7
              My horses get a ration balancer, a grass mix hay, pasture and that's it. Did 2 long format CCI* on just that...


              • #8
                This is basically what has worked best for my OTTB gelding too - plain shredded beet pulp, Tiple Crown Lite (to get the vitamins and minerals), Tri-Amino (to get adequate protein) dressed with 3/4 cup Rice Bran oil, and all the hay he can/will eat. We don't have a good hay source in my area but he's eating a nice grass hay supplemented with orchard alfalfa. I may begin alfalfa pellets over the summer. Rasta looks fantastic and is very, very sane on this diet.
                ~ it no longer matters what level I do, as long as I am doing it..~ with many thanks, to Elizabeth Callahan


                • #9
                  It really depends on the horse.

                  I've had my horses in barns that had similar feeding. Highest quality hay and as much of it as they will each and very good pasture and a good ration balancer. Most of the horses did very well....my big red horse STILL had to have more. He was one of the ones who had to have a ration balance, more grain (barley), fat supplement etc.....and this was before he was in heavy work.

                  His one TB half sister is the same. Other big horses who were fox hunting didn't need much extra.

                  So I do think you have to adjust to the individual.
                  ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                  • #10
                    This is an interesting thread for me right now. I've never considered my TB a hard keeper in the sense that I always felt like he was at a really good weight. But in the off season, he wouldn't gain weight, even though he was on no work, all the hay he can eat, and the same amount of grain he had during the season.

                    So basically, every season he lost a little bit of weight getting fit....and never gained it back.

                    Now, he's getting CCI** fit, and he is too thin. Not just tucked up like he's fit, he's ribbier than I want and he looks slightly hollow through his hindquarters.

                    He's on free choice Coastal, 1 flake of alfalfa, 6 quarts of 12% protein feed AM + PM, 1 lb of Amplify AM + PM, and 3 quarts (measured dry, then soaked) of beet pulp AM + PM. The alfalfa, Amplify, and beet pulp is new on Monday, I plan on upping the beet pulp once he starts becoming more enthusiastic about it. Right now he just picks at it, and eventually finishes it, but it takes several hours.

                    It's definitely something that's constantly on my mind, and while I would prefer to do less is more, for some reason free choice hay just doesn't seem to be cutting it for him. :-( I'm hoping I can cut out the Amplify and the alfalfa once he gets up to more weight, and just leave the beet pulp as part of his permanent diet. Luckily, I don't really worry about his energy level too much, although Ultium made him ridiculously spooky. So no Ultium for him.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Dr. Doolittle View Post
                      The hunter folks like 'em fat, eventers less so Anyway, the hunter horses tend to expend fewer calories (unless they are being longed into the ground), and they certainly don't do trot/canter sets or conditioning hack or hillwork on a regular basis. Personally, I like to see a little more flesh than many eventers, who like that "long lean TB appearance", but this *can* be achieved with great forage, and plenty of it! (And I have two Whippets; that's about as much long and lean as I would like to look at, and these two are in GOOD flesh--too good, if we are talking Sighthound purists )
                      Ever so slightly OT, but do you get people that come up to you and chastise you for not feeding your dog enough? If I take Antony (my IG) to a public place like Petsmart, little old ladies will come up and say "you need to put some meat on those bones!" which is both a) untrue and b) slightly creepy. People aren't used to seeing sighthounds at healthy weights when every lab, beagle, etc. is obese these days.

                      To keep this relevant, I have a draft x, so not the population of horses typical in eventing, but he's on as much timothy as he wants + about 1.5 lbs of LS feed divided between two meals, mostly so he gets something when everyone else eats.
                      Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique


                      • Original Poster

                        Ever so slightly OT, but do you get people that come up to you and chastise you for not feeding your dog enough? If I take Antony (my IG) to a public place like Petsmart, little old ladies will come up and say "you need to put some meat on those bones!" which is both a) untrue and b) slightly creepy. People aren't used to seeing sighthounds at healthy weights when every lab, beagle, etc. is obese these days.
                        I got this a lot with Stella, though it has toned down a bit in the last couple of years since she eats a tiny bit more and runs a tiny bit less (she's just a mutt, but VERY fit and not a big eater). My all time favorite, though, was when I had her in the vet office for a lameness and got seen by the young vet on staff. She was very worried about Stella's low heart rate and wanted to do an EKG!!! I said "She's the freaking Lance Armstrong of the dog world! Of course her heart rate's low...SHE'S FIT!!!!" For the record, Stella's normal vet at that practice LOVED her weight and fitness and wanted to show her off to all his fat dog clients.

                        But horses, right...interesting stuff here. I'm tempted to do a trial run on a couple of horses, but it makes me nervous! I'm all for feeding less grain, but it just seems like such a stretch that they'll have enough of what they DO need. Oy vey...I sound like one of those fat dog owners now!!!


                        • #13
                          Have drastically changed what and how we feed over the last year, as a result of dealing with a very "gut-sore" OTTB we could not get any weight on.

                          Our horses are mostly high performance (three A grade polocrosse mares, a CDE pony) and the guy with the tummyache. We feed the very best hay we can get our hands on, currently a gorgeous high plain orchard that is scrumptious, beet pulp, the pony gets a ration balancer, the others get a small amount of a 10% pellet and the OTTB currently gets a water soluble vegetable fat supplement called Kompeet. And sweaty saddle pads, 24/7 turnout. Our horses are healthy, happy, in great weight with plenty of "sane" get up and go.



                          • #14
                            YB- I operate on that program as well and even the long/lean skinny Tb's do pretty darn well. They might need a bit extra calories in terms of a fat supplement but it seems like over time they stablize and I can drop that.

                            I feed an unlimited amount of alfalfa/orchard hay in hay feeders that are slow feed. You would think it slows them down but really they eat the same amount they just don't waste it. The truly easy keepers just get a ration balancer (I use TC 30%) and the hard keepers get a ration balancer mixed with TC senior and maybe a fat supplement if they need it.

                            The CANTER horses come in they just blossom on this program and these are typically horses 3-7 yrs old in work and what I would call hard keepers. They get fat!

                            Now there are always exceptions but those guys seem to catch up with time. I also like to have a strict worming program but that is just a personal belief for horses with unknown worming histories.


                            • #15
                              I have always fed lightly.
                              In fact, for lower level horses I only feed once a day.

                              I feed alfalfa pellets and Horsetechs Glanzen Lite/Pre Ox combo. (It's got 2 oz flax per serving).
                              If I have one that needs calories I just add Cool Calories (Horsetech's FB100 is the cheapest cool calories I have found) and I add some more flax.

                              Horse can take up to 2 cups of oil/cool calories a day and 6-8oz of flax a day.
                              (is what I learned from COTH)

                              It's quite a bit of powder but I use beet pulp to mush it all up together and I feed it VERY wet. Pig slop wet--but we are in Texas where it is already hitting 90* on occasion so the extra moisture makes me feel good.

                              Coastal and Alfalfa hay. And they run loose on the farm (6 acres).

                              The hunter/jumper barns often do not give their horses a lot of turn out. This makes a big difference. When I chubbed my eventer up for the hunters, keeping him up is what made the difference. He was walking off calories when turned out...luckily he didn't mind being up in his stall/pen. But I can imagine that most hunter/jumper barns have limited turn out therefore their horses hang around and stuff themselves with hay all day without burning extras off roaming around and playing!!
                              That and their work load is quite a bit lighter than that of even a novice eventer.

                              It's kind of like comparing an administrator to a personal trainer in work loads. lol.
                              Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                              • #16
                                My 16.3H DWB/TB gets 1.25 quarts of beet pulp pellets (soaked) twice a day. One Cup of CocaSoya Oil, 1 cup of Platinum Performance, vit E and Vit E/Selenium. And, all the second cut, mostly grass, hay she can eat.

                                She was on Strategy prior to this diet and was looney, then I put her on a low-carb diet grain (Wellsolve) ... still high as a kite. Beet pulp, oil and hay have kept her spring hussies to a minimun, yet her energy is high.

                                She is shiny, well fleshed (not fat) works 6 (sometimes seven) days a week. She's been on this diet for 4 years now and is an accomplished Training horse has competed at Prelim with a professional. I fox hunt and event at novice.
                                Live, Laugh, Love


                                • Original Poster

                                  So, I have to make a feed order today, anyway, so I think I'm going to give this experiment a go. I have a couple of "guinea pigs" lined up- trying to pick a variety from our horses. The BO's hard working but often a little wild WB cross (holds his weight VERY well), a boarder's BN/N TB mare who keeps her weight well and doesn't eat a ton but can be a little wild on occasion, Vernon (scares me to mess with his feed, but he should be ok on what I'm choosing), Toby, and the Blonde Pony.

                                  I'm going to go with a RB (Pennfield's All Phase, since I'm a big fan of their stuff), lots of good hay (already there), and some source of fat. Do I really need SOY oil? It's pricey and I don't know if it is easily attainable (will ask feed dealer today). What about vegetable oil, or even just rice bran?


                                  • #18
                                    My Trainer feeds that way... fantastic hay (they actually had to bring in a lower grade hay for some horses as they were getting fat on the regular stuff), and a high fat, forage-based concentrate in fairly low quantities. Quite a few get just a handful.

                                    All the horses are glossy and sleek...
                                    "Adulthood? You're playing with ponies. That is, like, every 9 year old girl's dream. Adulthood?? You're rocking the HELL out of grade 6, girl."


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post
                                      I'm going to go with a RB (Pennfield's All Phase, since I'm a big fan of their stuff), lots of good hay (already there), and some source of fat. Do I really need SOY oil? It's pricey and I don't know if it is easily attainable (will ask feed dealer today). What about vegetable oil, or even just rice bran?

                                      I don't think you need soy oil....but then again I feed my guys wheat germ oil (really a blend of wheat germ oil and soy oil).... Very easy to get.

                                      It is basically another source of high fat and omega 3 fatty acids. It is also a good source of Vit E. Gives long lasting energy.

                                      I know a couple of horses (I have one)who do not do well on soy based products. My one mare get's puffy and sore. So watch out for that.
                                      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                                      • #20
                                        I also wanted to add that I truly do think it makes a difference in attitude. My conn/tb and the cleveland bay/tb filly in training are by far the two most sensitive horses in the barn in terms of being affected by feed.

                                        It has made all the difference in the world in terms of rideability. Actually, just writing this I am wondering if the feed change isn't one of the main reasons my conn/tb is now able to be ridden by my hubby. My trainer hadn't seen him go in several years due to an injury and she couldn't get over how different he was. Gorgeous coat and muscling but his rideability has changed so drastically. I liked him as a hot horse but he often just wouldn't let you put pressure on him. Now he is still a bit hot but you can ride him. Should I say forgiving??? Ha, he truly is changed!

                                        All these two eat are 1lb of ration balancer daily and very good quality timothy hay. They look amazing!

                                        I personally prefer a cool calories product over oil because my tb's eat it better. However, most are in great condition and are not receiving additonal fat.