The green grass of spring and summer have long passed, and the hay you’ve purchased isn’t keeping enough weight on your hard keeper. What do you do to help him get through the winter? Consult with your veterinarian to determine what the underlying cause of your horse’s weight loss is. This will help to set you on a knowledgable path to feeding your horse for his needs.


Your senior horse may need extra TLC this winter to help maintain his weight. H&R file photo by Caroline Fyffe

At a Loss

There are a variety of both physical and mental issues that can cause your horse to lose weight. Hard keeper is often a term used for a horse that requires more calories or has fluctuations in appetite due to changes in his routine. Travel or stress from hard training can cause your horse to eat less and drop weight. However, if your horse is generally an average horse to keep weight on and rarely has changes in appetite but suddenly has started to lose weight, it may be time to look at the other sources of weight loss.

Environmental Changes. It’s winter, so your horse will burn extra calories to keep himself warm. Providing your horse with the best environment to stay warm without burning extra calories will help maintain his weight as the temperatures drop. Offering free-choice hay will help generate internal heat for your horse.

If your horse can’t process hay as he’s old or has a dietary restriction, adding blankets and bringing him into the barn will keep him warmer and help prevent burning extra calories. Adding extra calories, such as Cool Omega 40+, to your horse’s diet will help replenish the calories lost from staying warm without the negative impacts of increased grain feeding such as colic and founder. 

Note: More calories don’t always mean your horse will lose his focus. Feeding fat instead of carbs will create a “cool” energy. 

Cool Omega 40+ has 3 sources of fat: stabilized rice bran, stabilized flaxseed meal, and vegetable fat. Courtesy of Manna Pro

Dental Issues. Hooks, ramps, waves, broken, cracked, or infected teeth can all either inhibit chewing or cause enough pain that your horse goes off of his feed. The warning signs—other than weight loss—that your horse may have dental issues includes, dropping partially chewed food, packing food within cheeks, bad breath, tenderness or swelling around the jaw, head tossing, or unusual resistance to the bit.

Regular dental exams should be performed every six to 12 months, starting at a young age. As your horse ages, he will need extra watchfulness as other diseases could begin to develop.


Illness. Most diseases that cause weight loss have other visual signs, such as diarrhea, colic, or lethargy. But there are cases where your horse will drop weight with subtle signs of illness. During your veterinary exam, your vet will look for internal infections if the noted symptoms are present.

If symptoms aren’t present, a common illness that causes weight loss is gastric ulcers. If your horse has decreased performance and a change in attitude in addition to weight loss, this is an indication that ulcers may be the underlying issue.

A fecal egg count may also be performed if you don’t already have your horse on a regular fecal count schedule for de-worming purposes. Parasites can damage your horse’s intestinal tract and cause issues extracting nutrients from his food.

Gain More

Adding weight to your horse seems easy, just feed him more calories. As simple as it sounds, as horse owners we know it’s much more difficult than just giving more food. It may take a few tries with different feeds—and an equine nutritionist may be a great resource—to figure out a feeding program that works for your horse. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the TLC blog, sponsored by Manna Pro, where we’ll share tips about the extra, pampering things you can do for your horse…just because you love him. Our pointers will help you foster your horse’s wellbeing by boosting his health…or just making him happy.


Two winners randomly selected will each receive 1 20lb. bucket of Cool Omega® 40+ (valued at $89.99).

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Horse&Rider provides all you need for today’s Western horse life. Learn from top professional trainers, clinicians, and horsekeeping experts.

Related Articles


Create an Equine Oasis for Your Senior Horse

Caring for your senior horse should be a multi-faceted approach. Keep his golden years enjoyable, with proper care and support for your aging equine.
Read Now
April Monthly (2)

Volume 36 - Golden Oldies: Caring for the Senior Horse

Saddle up your senior horse with confidence that you are providing him with the nutrition and exercise he needs, to stay healthy and happy.
Read Now

Dam Spotlight: Snap Krackle Pop

Snap Krackle Pop is a talented mare with excellent conformation, and is always an eye-catcher in the arena, as are her offspring.
Read Now