wikiHow to Fatten up a Horse

Two Parts:Ensuring the Horse is HealthyFeeding Your Horse

Fattening a horse, also called conditioning, is a long process, but one that can improve your horse's health. Your horse may be underweight for a variety of reasons, like wintering in harsh conditions, not getting enough calories, or feeding on poor pasture. If you can easily see your horse's ribs sticking out through a dull coat, he may have "ill-thrift" meaning that he lacks energy and can't be worked or ridden. Before you simply start feeding your horse more feed, check for any health issues that could be preventing weight gain. Once you've ensured that your horse is healthy, there are several things you can do to fatten up your horse.

Part 1
Ensuring the Horse is Healthy

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    Check your horse for health issues. Before you begin fattening up your horse, make sure there are no other health problems that could be causing weight loss. You'll need to take your horse to the veterinarian to ensure your horse is healthy. If your horse has a medical condition, the veterinarian will be able to prescribe the correct treatment, which will most likely help your horse regain any lost weight.[1]
    • The two major causes of weight loss in horses are internal parasites (worms) and poor dental conditions.
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    Pay attention to your horse's mouth. You may notice that your horse is shy when you try to put the bit in his mouth. Or, he might be a messy eater, dropping partially chewed lumps of food on the ground and in his water bowl (a process known as "quidding"). Your horse may do these because he has tooth problems. But, if your horse is feeling pain when he chews, he may cut back on eating rather than deal with the pain, so there won't be other symptoms.[2]
    • As horses age, they can develop points (sharp edges), hooks (a jagged tooth that doesn't make contact with the lower or upper teeth), and waves (unevenly worn down molars) in both the upper and lower teeth (arcades). These can prevent them from chewing their food properly, resulting in a loss of nutrients.
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    Have the veterinarian check your horse's teeth. Get your veterinarian to look at your horse's teeth to determine if the weight loss may be caused by tooth problems. Your vet may be able to tell if the horse isn't able to sufficiently break down his feed.
    • A horse's teeth continue to grow until the mid-twenties, so it's a good idea to have them examined and floated (rasped down) every year, if they need it.[3]
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    Check your horse for worms. Your veterinarian should run a complete egg count on a sample of your horse's feces to identify specific species of parasites (worms). If your horse has a large population of redworms (Cyathostomiasis), he's probably experiencing gut inflammation or stomach ache, and is unable to completely digest his food. Once the species of worms has been identified, your horse will be de-wormed 2 separate times, about 3 weeks apart. This gets rid of adult worms, as well as the developing eggs and larvae.[4]
    • Horses are more likely to have worms if they have grazed on pasture that has been heavily grazed by other horses and that are heavily contaminated with horse feces which harbor the worm eggs.
    • Red worms account for around 95% of worm eggs in pasture, so infection is highly under the right circumstances. Other species that are found in pastures, like strongylids worms, can also cause weight loss.
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    Get a complete blood test. While you may not want the expense, the test will show if your horse is deficient in any essential minerals and if all of the internal organs are functioning properly. This information can help you determine if the horse needs supplements. The veterinarian will also examine your horse for other problems which could interfere with his ability to eat, such as respiratory disease, chronic diarrhea, gastric ulcers, or behavioral problems.[5]
    • Some behavioral problems can interfere with eating, such as wind sucking or crib biting. With these, the horse sucks in a lot of air when chewing, which can cause stomach bloating. This makes him feel full, when he's actually just full of air.[6]

Part 2
Feeding Your Horse

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    Condition score your horse. Horses are scored on a scale of 1 to 9 according to their amount of muscle and fat. This is figured by looking at, feeling, and ranking 6 areas of the horse's body.[7] The veterinarian can help you determine your horse's score which will let you decide if your horse needs to gain weight. The ideal body score is a 5 or 6.[8]
    • Scores of 1 to 4 are considered thin, and will need more feed to boost weight.
    • An extremely underweight horse will need a feed that is high in protein and fats (such as rice bran) to promote weight gain.
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    Get advice on choosing a feed. Talk with your local feed merchant. The merchant will know the benefits of the various feeds that are stocked. Describe your horse's condition, so you can get a good recommendation on what feed you should be purchasing. Just remember not to feed a lot of grain, since these can be hard for your horse to digest.[9]
    • You can also ask the advice of fellow equestrians. Many of them may be able to offer helpful tips and tricks to build up your horse's condition.
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    Determine how much food your horse needs. If your horse is thin, ask your vet to recommend a target weight. You'll then want to look at the feed package and weigh out how much he should be eating a day. Don't use a scoop, since this can be inaccurate and you may be overestimating how much you're feeding your horse.[10] Be sure to feed for your horse's desired weight and allow him access to a pasture.
    • An average horse will need 1.8 to 2% of body weight in feed (including supplements). So, an average horse in good condition needs about 18 to 20 pounds of feed a day.[11]
    • If you're trying to fatten your horse, consider upping the amount of food by 2.3 to 2.5% of body weight for a slow gradual gain.
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    Consider using a high-protein hard feed. If your horse is severely underweight, consider feeding him a high-protein hard feed which is calorie dense. You can give a high energy extruded (shaped) food (500-700g for every 100 kg of body weight) mixed with an equal volume of chaff (straw cut up for fodder or seed husks). Or, you could feed rolled barley and dampened rice bran in the same quantities.
    • Avoid suddenly increasing the quantity of food, which could cause your horse to gorge and develop diarrhea or even colic. Decide on the amount of feed for the horse's target weight and divide it into 3 to 4 feeds spaced over the day.[12]
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    Ensure your horse has sufficient grass. Grass is the staple food of the horse's diet. Without it, your horse may not be eating enough bulk (roughage), causing him to be thin. Make sure your horse gets at least 3 to 4 hours on grass, but don't just turn him out and let him graze all day. Not only will he strip the pasture down to the ground, but he will overload his gut and could develop laminitis, diarrhea, or colic as a result.[13]
    • Consider giving the horse good quality hay before you turn him out into the pasture, which can keep him from eating too much fresh grass. Hay can also regulate the bowels and provide slow release energy for your horse.
    • Limit pasturing on lush spring grass to 2 hours (1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon). This grass is rich in carbohydrates, which greatly increases the risk of laminitis or diarrhea.[14]
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    Consider adding oils to the feed. Start by adding just a 1/4 cup of oil to your horse's feed per day, adding another 1/4 cup within a few days. Build up to about 2 cups of oil a day. You can use corn, peanut, canola, or vegetable oil.[15] Adding oils to your horse's feed will help increase his weight and can aid in digestion.
    • While your horse is on a higher calorie diet, make sure he's getting a little light exercise. This way, your horse will start to condition and build muscle.[16]


  • Since different worms need different antiparasitic treatments, it's important your vet tests for the specific species and chooses and effective treatment.[17]
  • Do not feed any supplements that your horse does not need. Additives such as selenium and sulfur are poisonous in large doses. Do not feed any of these without knowing the exact dosage your horse requires.
  • Buy the highest quality feeds while fattening up. They may cost more, but they work faster and are of a better quality so you won't need to use them for long.
    • Seniors grain can be a useful addition when a horse needs fattening, even though the horse may not be senior.


  • Do not feed any supplements that your horse does not need. Additives such as selenium and sulfur are poisonous in large doses. Do not feed any of these without knowing the exact dosage your horse requires.

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Categories: Horse Health