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Hay belly - causes and how to get rid of it?

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  • Hay belly - causes and how to get rid of it?

    Hi - new here and this is my first post!

    I have a lovely 4 and a half yr old TB. His overall condition is good (it wasn't a while ago, but we worked on it), his coat is shiny, and he's progressively building muscle over his topline. But he has a rather large haybelly and his ribs are still just visible.

    He's on 6kg of 14% feed split into 3 meals daily, 1 cup of Canola oil split over the feeds, and ad-lib access to good quality hay. We've had his droppings checked for worms which was found to be clear, and then did the 5-day course of Panacur against cyathostones incase we didn't pick those up in the faeces test. I also put him on a course of Pronutrin in case stomach ulcers were a problem.

    Is there anything I've overlooked?

  • #2
    Yep, you haven't mentioned the quality and quantity of the hay. Hay bellies are caused by 3 main factors 1) worms (which you've ruled out) 2) low quality hay (the gut distents to attempt to draw out more nutrients from hay and is often combined with feeding too much and 3) conformation.

    My horse looks pregnant even when very thin. he has a hay belly by conformation. I have to feed him small levels of high quality and energy feed. This requires testing each new hay batch. My horse also improves when allowed to eat a couple of hours a day on pasture instead of only hay. A protien (amino acid) supplement has also really helped. I also have to be very careful about saddle fit so he can be encouraged to lift his back and keep that belly up. Cantering up hills has also helped tremendously and when I lived in 'no-mountain land' I did sprints once a week. That also seemed as beneficial as the hills.

    I don't know if there is any correlation but my horse also has a history of ulcers. I have a picture of him when I got him when he was 5. The trainer he was will kept him very thin to try and cut down the hay belly look, but looking at the photo having him thinner didn't change the belly. They probably had him undernourished in hindsight which would make the hay belly worse.


    • #3
      I would look at testing hay, looking into different types to see if one affects your horse differently.


      • #4
        PS welcome to the COTH board! You will find it usefule to use the search option that is in the blue strip of options near the top of the page. Sadly, only words 4 letters or longer will come up in a search. So for example if you search "oat hay" no results will come up because the words are only 3 letters long. If you search "hay belly" hay won't be included in the search. I do recommend going to 'advanced search' which is an option below the search field once clicked on 'search'. In the advanced search you can choose to search only titles which helps get a more defined search.

        My point is, there is a lot of past post made on the topic and you might find some useful info.

        Best of luck!


        • #5
          I tend to agree that you should investigate the quality of the hay. From what I undestand it is the lignan content of the hay that affects its digestibility. If it's high in lignan (cellulose) that takes much longer to digest and will result in a hay belly. If that doesn't yield results, check the '14% feed' which is too unspecific to give much information about what is being fed. Some grains are less digestible than others, namely corn, and if that grain contains corn it may be possible that he cannot digest it well and it is causing a 'bloat' that looks like a hay belly.


          • Original Poster

            Thanks all for your replies!
            I'll definitely look into hay quality. I've recently moved him - so he's changed from lush paddocks to much dryer grass, and to red grass hay. It looks like the belly has improved slightly - so then maybe the quality of the hay at my old yard wasn't great. If not I'll certainly test the hay and try different types.

            Flyracing - I hadn't thought of the amino acid supplement, but I may try that out. I'm also trying to do as much correct lunging and flatwork as possible to get him to lift through his back and so strengthen his stomach muscles.

            Androcles - I didn't mention the type of feed as I'm in South Africa and it probably won't be known to you. It's a pelleted feed, and doesn't contain corn. Put him on extra corn once and it blew his mind so I steer clear of that.

            Thanks again for all of your replies!


            • Original Poster

              Flyracing - I found the search option now! Thanks Silly me.

              So it looks like it's a case of poor quality hay, or him not being able to digest the hay properly - I assume the latter is the case because other horses at the yard looked fine. He also had a terrible hay belly as a yearling, so it's possibly him just being prone to it.

              My question then is - is lucerne (I think you call it alfalfa) a better option for him? Should I substitute a large portion of his hay with lucerne and add beet pulp so that he gets adequate roughage?


              • #8
                Worms have not been ruled out! Tapeworms are not detected with fecal checks!!!!!!!!!

                Horses should be dewormed IMO, twice a year at a minimum for tapes. It is one of the most common cause of big belly. I've seen a number of horses that had the ribby yet big belly look that just bloomed after deworming for tapes. Has this horse been dewormed regularly for tapes?



                • Original Poster

                  Chicamuxen1 - Yep he's been done for tapeworms. He had Pegamax most recently. I'll have to check at the new yard what wormer rotation they use.


                  • #10
                    I would not substitute alfalfa for grass hay. Alfalfa is a legume not a grass and it causes havoc for some horses minds, also high in protein and (I believe) calcium. So it can unbalance your ration. If you're going to make changes I would look for a better quality grass hay.

                    With the deworming you've done perhaps he is in need of some supplemental probiotics. Hay is fermented in the hind gut and needs the assistance of these microbes to digest it; if they're not present he could be having trouble digesting the hay.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Selene View Post
                      Flyracing - I found the search option now! Thanks Silly me.

                      So it looks like it's a case of poor quality hay, or him not being able to digest the hay properly -
                      it is the nature of poor quality hay to be unable to be digested fully...that is what makes it poor quality normally
                      is this the product in question ?

                      Red Oat Grass (Themeda triandra):

                      Also known as kangaroo grass or bluegrass, this is a tough, bluish-green grass that can grow over 3 feet tall. At the end of the grass's growing cycle, it dries to a golden yellow and sports flattened, fan-like seed pods. While this is one of the most common grasses in the Serengeti, it has very low nutritive value.

                      if so I will try yo find it's RFV #'s for you

                      My question then is - is lucerne (I think you call it alfalfa) a better option for him? Should I substitute a large portion of his hay with lucerne and add beet pulp so that he gets adequate roughage?
                      you may find some local lucernes that do offer roughage in good supply for him...

                      Tamara in TN
                      Production Acres,Pro A Welsh Cobs
                      I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tamara in TN View Post

                        if so I will try yo find it's RFV #'s for you
                        found this on a SA ag site


                        Good when young, unpalatable when mature.

                        Chemical analysis and digestibility

                        The chemical composition of the grass in dry and wet seasons is given by Karue (1974) as percentages of the dry matter in Table 15.76. Botha (1953) recorded 6.9 percent crude protein in the dry matter of fresh, vegetative material and only 2.7 percent in mature, fresh material. The digestibility of the crude protein with sheep was 51.9 percent for fresh, vegetative material and nil for the mature grass.

                        to which my husband replied "RFV of maybe 50,she'd be better off to feed sticks and cardboard"

                        Tamara in TN
                        Production Acres,Pro A Welsh Cobs
                        I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks Tamara and Tamara's husband! Oh dear. It does look like I'll have to search for different hay.

                          I don't think farmers in SA are nearly as clued up on hay's nutritive values as you in the states are. Well tbh it's the first time I've even heard of RFV values - I generally go on what the hay looks and smells like. Good thing I'm finding this out now, I feel like an idiot for not looking after my horse's best interests

                          The hays that we can get around here (when we're lucky) are redgrass, and teff / eragrostis. Do you know if teff is ok? I've googled it and found it to have an RFV of around 85 - is that good?

                          Androcles - I'll get him on a probiotic - good point.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Selene View Post
                            Thanks Tamara and Tamara's husband! Oh dear. It does look like I'll have to search for different hay.
                            Do you know if teff is ok? I've googled it and found it to have an RFV of around 85 - is that good?
                            the Teff would be fine for him....the lowest RFV you need is about 80ish with 100 RFV being really the best if hay were a sole ration...but he's also getting grain so no biggie

                            the low RFV stays in the belly too long as the body tries to digest it....hence the potty gut it causes

                            Tamara in TN
                            Production Acres,Pro A Welsh Cobs
                            I am one of the last 210,000 remaining full time farmers in America.We feed the others.