An easy keeper is the type of horse that many people say “lives off air.” These horses have a slower metabolism than others, and struggle to maintain a proper weight. We have included some general guidelines that can help as you work to feed your easy keeper, but we always recommend contacting your veterinarian when developing a feeding regimen specific to your horse.
During this time of year some of us are lucky enough to have unlimited access to pasture. However, for an easy keeper fresh pasture grass is not always a healthy option, especially for those who are insulin resistant, or are dealing with Equine Metabolic Syndrome in some form. If a horse is just overweight and not suffering from any metabolic issues, you can limit their grass intake by using a grazing muzzle when they are out on pasture. Any horse that is suspected of insulin resistance or other metabolic disorders should be seen by a veterinarian and have the appropriate testing to determine the best course of action. Common signs of insulin resistance are excessive fat pads usually found on the crest, rump, and above the eye, as well as excessive urination, and laminitis.
Hay makes up the bulk of a horse’s diet, and for an easy keeper it is very tempting to feed them less. However it is important not to restrict hay too much because that can lead to other stress related issues, like ulcers. A great way to provide almost constant access to forage for an easy keeper is a slow feed hay net. Another great management technique for easy keepers is soaking hay. Soaking hay for 15-30 mins draws out the excess sugars in the hay, making the hay much safer for insulin resistant horses, and cutting out a lot of excess calories.
Another area to consider looking at is grain intake. Many easy keepers don’t need grain at all, and a great alternative to traditional grain for these horses would be a ration balancer. Ration balancer is a grain that contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals your horse needs to supplement their diet, without the excess calories and sugar of a traditional horse feed.
The last piece of the easy keeper puzzle is exercise. Just like in humans, proper diet alone is not effective without the physical activity needed to burn fat and build muscle. Making sure your horse has a consistent exercise routine, is a great way to promote a healthy equine partner. Exercise can be in the form of riding, lunging, hand walking, obstacles, ground-driving, pole work, etc… Any movement and consistent physical activity will provide your horse with the tools it needs to stay healthy.
Although people often think of rescue horses as underweight and malnourished, we deal with quite a few overweight horses in our program as well. A healthy weight is important for every horse, whether they are too heavy or too thin. When in doubt always remember to consult your veterinarian to help feed your horse accordingly, and address any underlying issues that may be getting in the way of helping your horse maintain a healthy weight.