Horse & Rider

Maybe He’s Fat. Maybe it’s Hay Belly.

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Learn why the quality and not the quantity of feed might be the cause of your horse’s belly.

Do you have a slim horse that just can’t seem to muscle up no matter how hard you ride, a gelding that’s been mistaken for a full-term mare, or an oldie that has traded his former fit physique for a potbelly and sagging back? While it may seem that this hay-belly look is just result of overeating and lack of exercise, it’s likelier to be a sign that your horse isn’t getting the nutrients he needs. disproport­ionate because it typically accompanie­s a thin frame. Your horse might lack fat deposits around his neck and other areas and may even have visible ribs. He can also have a dull coat and generally lack muscle around his chest and rear. Though hay belly is more common in senior horses, it can happen at any age.

Go for quality. Find and feed better hay with higher protein and fiber content. Low-quality hay is often too mature or cut too late, and as a result has a higher stem-to-leaf ratio than desirable. Choose hay that’s been cut in its prime and is leafy, as it’ll be higher in fiber and protein. Since protein is the building block for your horse’s muscle, feeding more of it will also improve your horse’s body compositio­n.

Mix and match. If your horse primarily feeds on grass, supplement with quality hay. This combinatio­n allows you to manage cost by offering free range while also ensuring that your horse has access to the nutrients—especially protein that he needs to maintain muscle tone.

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