Weight Gain, Muscle Gain, and Weight Loss
Body condition of our athletes is not just about having the right look for your class or competition. Having the right amount of body weight going into show season makes it easier to maintain body weight when the inevitable stress, diet changes, travel, and housing alterations impact your horse’s weight. Further, underweight horses may be at higher risk of disease or injuries, while overweight horses may be at risk of developing metabolic issues, and having too little muscle development for your horse’s sport can put it at risk of injury and fatigue. Your horse’s breed, gender, and personality can impact their weight/muscle gain or loss, as well as training schedule, type of sport, diet, season, and weather. Keeping in mind these factors, feeding for weight gain (as in total weight or adipose) has different considerations than feeding for muscle gain, while some horses may need to gain muscle while simultaneously losing adipose.
Assessing if your horse needs to gain or lose weight is somewhat breed, age, gender, and discipline specific, and in some instances a lighter or heavier body condition may be more desirable. For instance, race horses and endurance horses are typically at an advantage when lower in body condition, while reining, halter, and hunter horses are typically found with higher than average body condition. Health-wise, a goal of pony owners should be to maintain a lower to moderate body condition, as ponies are at higher risk of metabolic syndrome and associated conditions (Treiber et al., 2006; Dugdale et al., 2011), whereas breeding mares should be maintained at slightly increased body masses to improve reproductive efficiency and account for the nutritive demands of pregnancy and lactation (Henneke et al., 1984).
As access to an equine weight scale is often rare, other methods to assess body weight and condition have been developed to help owners track equine progress. See our posts on body condition scoring and estimating body weight in horses using weight tapes.
Tips for Weight Gain
Tips for Muscle Gain
Tips for Weight Loss
Keep in mind all diet changes should be done slowly and over the course of weeks, but this is especially true if you are changing the type of carbohydrate (grass species, adding legumes like alfalfa, changing or adding a concentrate, seed, or grain). Sudden changes can affect the GI tract and especially the hindgut, so go slow and give your horse and its digestive tract plenty of time to acclimate. Reach out to your Science Supplements nutritionist if you have any questions!
Dugdale AH, Curtis GC, Cripps PJ, Harris PA, Argo CM. Effects of season and body condition on appetite, body mass and body composition in ad libitum fed pony mares. Veterinary Journal. 2011;190(3):329-337
Henneke DG, Potter GD, Kreider JL. Body condition during pregnancy and lactation and reproductive efficiency in mares. Theriogeneolgy. 1984;21:897-909
Treiber KH, Kronfeld DS, Geor RJ. Insulin resistance in equids: possible role in laminitis. Journal of Nutrition. 2006;136:2094S-2098S