One of the most common comments and questions I receive is: “My horse lost their topline — how can I get it back quickly?”
If you're looking to improve topline in a horse, the easy answer is to change their diet, but the metabolic rate of each breed and even individual horses can make a significant difference in a nutritional recommendation. For example, I have Gypsy Vanners — and they just look at Bermuda grass and gain weight. On the other hand, my fine-structured Dunn Quarter Horse would lose topline just by the sight of the arena and work.
Fixing the energy in your horse’s diet can be broken down simply. The three main energy sources for a horse are fiber, carbohydrates, and fats.
We are both blessed and cursed with the quality of hay we have here in the Southwest. Growing conditions and management, irrigation methods, and abundant sunshine produce high-quality grasses and alfalfas that typically have much higher digestible fiber, protein, and sugar levels than our friends in the Midwest.
We can usually gain adequate additional energy through forage intake to meet slight to moderate needed caloric intakes. However, if you have that hard keeper like my Dunn who lost weight at the sight of an arena, other energy sources come into play. Additives such as high-quality yeast products will aid in the digestion of forages, therefore yielding higher net absorbed energy values.
Most articles talk about starches as the only carbohydrate, but this is a mistake because sugars are very important carbohydrates as well. I have seen sugar levels as high as 6 percent in some grasses such as Orchard. Other forms of sugar come from the molasses in your texturized feeds and many horse treats.
Sugars, when managed well, can provide a form of energy that is quickly absorbed and does not affect gut pH like starches do. Corn, oats, mill run, wheat middlings (depending on how listed on the tag), and rice bran all have starches with varying degrees of digestibility rate.
Corn, especially steam-flaked corn and ground corn (the form of corn in your complete pellet), explode quickly in the cecum and in many cases drop pH in the gut and blood, quickly triggering a histamine and inflammation effect. I very seldom if ever recommend grains in diets, especially corn.
This leads us to fats: Flaxseed, rice bran, and coconut meal are my favorites because of the type of fats they provide. Flaxseed and rice bran both have omega-3 fatty acids while coconut meal has MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Omega-3 fatty acids are digested in the intestinal tract while MCT are largely deposited in the liver — and from there, used as an energy source or fat deposit.
Omega-3 fatty acids and MCT combined are a powerful energy source and healthy fat options. In my own personal formulations, I use rice bran and coconut meal over flaxseed because of the occasional flax intolerant horse and the forms it comes in. One important note, however, is to make sure when feeding rice bran that it comes from a quality source and is stabilized. It should state that on the tag.
If you’re still wondering how to get your horse’s topline back, the quick answer is to evaluate the quality and amount of forage being fed — and add fat sources such as rice bran, coconut meal, or flaxseed to the diet. It is common for me to recommend feeding a pound of coconut meal (copra) and a pound of rice bran to gain quick and safe results. If you’d like a quick ration balanced for your horse, feel free to contact us via www.AHorseOfCourseNutrition.com/contact.
Brad Kloss is an animal nutritionist with more than 38 years of experience. He’s also the
founder of Symphony — by A Horse of Course Nutrition.
By Brad Kloss