Promoting healthy weight gain can be a challenge for some underweight horses. Whether they are recovering from illness, not eating enough, or simply a hard keeper, some horses need extra nutritional support to counteract unwanted weight loss.

The main goal of a weight gain feeding plan is to increase the calorie content of the horse’s diet and create a positive energy balance. However, care must be taken to avoid overfeeding nutrients like sugar and starch, as these can lead to digestive issues and exacerbate insulin resistance in horses with metabolic disease.

There are a number of safe feed and supplement options that equine nutritionists recommend to help a horse gain weight. The optimal choice for your horse will depend on their existing diet, and other factors such as dental health or gut issues.

Before altering your horse’s diet, consult with your veterinarian to rule out underlying conditions that may be impacting weight maintenance. Some conditions lead to weight loss that may be difficult to resolve with dietary changes alone.

Continue reading to learn more about the seven best weight gain feeds that you can incorporate into your horse’s diet to improve their body condition.

Weight Gain Feeds for Horses

When it comes to helping a horse gain weight, the focus should be on increasing calorie intake with safe energy sources. This includes fats, fibers, and forages, which provide additional calories without increasing the risks of with metabolic issues, laminitis, and colic.

Many grain-based feeds do provide high energy, but they also contain high levels of hydrolyzable carbohydrates (sugars and starches). While these components are calorie-dense, their overconsumption can lead to serious health issues such as digestive upset and worsening of insulin resistance.

Fats, fibers, and forages are more appropriate for the horse’s sensitive digestive system, supporting a healthy hindgut microbiome. These nutrients are also less likely to cause “hot” behavior often associated with high-grain diets.

Here are seven nutritionist-recommended weight gain feeds that are safe and effective for most horses:

  • Beet Pulp
  • Legume Forages
  • Brans
  • Oils
  • Dry Fat Supplements
  • Flax Seed
  • Hay Cubes and Pellets

Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is an excellent source of calories from fiber and can be implemented in many different types of feeding programs. It comes in several forms including pellets and shreds, as well as molassed and unmolassed beet pulp.

Horses tend to find beet pulp palatable, which makes it a useful addition to the diet of picky eaters. Beet pulp is highly digestible and because of its high fiber content, beet pulp also supports digestion and the hindgut’s microbial population.

Energy Source and Nutritional Content

The majority of energy garnered from unmolased beet pulp comes from its high soluble fiber content. These soluble fibers are fermented readily by microbes in the hindgut, producing volatile fatty acids that horses use for energy. [2]

Volatile fatty acids from the microbial digestion of beet pulp are produced long after a meal is consumed, providing a prolonged energy source. [3][4]

Nutritional Profile

The following table provides the nutritional composition of dried molassed (3%) and unmolassed beet pulp. [5][6][7]

Nutrient Molassed
Beet Pulp
Unmolassed
Beet Pulp
Digestible Energy 2.84 mcal / kg 2.8 mcal / kg
Crude protein 10% 10%
Fat 1.1% 1.1%
Sugar 23% 0.4%
Starch 2% 0%

 

Feeding

Determining the appropriate amount of beet pulp to feed a horse depends on several factors, including the horse&