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Helping your good doers stay healthy and slim by Equine Nutritionist Clare MacLeod


Keeping “good doers” healthy and slim can be a big challenge. Many owners are aware of the importance of plenty of forage but this has led to many more overweight horses. How do we ensure good gut health and psychological health in good doers whilst keeping them slim and metabolically healthy?

What is a good doer?

“Good doer” is a description used for a horse or pony that seems to need very little feed in order to maintain condition and health. It’s possible they do actually have lower than average energy requirements but they also tend to be horses who spend more time eating than most. It’s possible that they may have dysfunctional appetites or hormone abnormalities that affect their natural ability to self-regulate.

The challenge

The challenge with a good doer is keeping them satiated (their appetite fulfilled) and their digestive tract healthy but also keeping them slim enough to be healthy. Finding forage of a low enough energy content can be almost impossible and therefore forage usually needs to be restricted or soaked for 10-12 hours to reduce the energy intake of the horse or pony.

A typical low energy forage contains around 8MJ of digestible energy (DE) per kilo, and this supplies 80MJ of DE for a 500 kg horse eating 10 kg dry matter daily (2% of their bodyweight). Compare this to the requirement of around 70MJ for such a horse not in any work and even less for a horse that needs to lose weight, and the discrepancy is obvious. Clean, organic barley or oat straw can be mixed with hay or haylage in a ratio of 1:3 to help downgrade forage quality.

Practical feeding to maintain good health and a slim physique

The starting place for feeding horses is choosing appropriate forage that – ideally – allows it to be ad lib and provides as many of the nutrients a horse needs as possible. But ad lib forage is not possible for most good doers because low enough calorie forage is not easy or could be impossible to find. Use the rule of no longer than a 4 hour fast at any time and work around this. 

Grass is a moderately high energy feed during spring to autumn and it is very palatable so it will need to be restricted for good doers. Strip graze, use a grazing muzzle, use track systems (but with mowing, cross-species grazing, or other method of keeping the grass growth down) or use turnout pens or areas without grass, and supplement with hay. 

All horses on restricted rations who do not need concentrate feed must be fed a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure they receive a well-balanced diet. This can be mixed with any palatable feed such as chaff, in a small amount. 

Good doers are much easier to keep healthy if they are in regular, moderate levels of exercise.  Not only does exercise increase energy requirements and mean good doers can have less forage restriction, but it also helps regulate the hormones that can be associated with poor health.  

In conclusion:

  • Assess body condition (fat level) regularly in an objective way and be honest with yourself
  • Choose the lowest calorie (energy) forage you can find 
  • Consider using clean organic barley or oat straw to downgrade forage energy if necessary
  • Soak hay (for 10-12 hours) if there is no alternative
  • Aim for no longer than a 4 hour fast at any time
  • Balance the forage carefully with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement
  • Exercise as much as possible
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