Keeping Miniature Horses Healthy by Managing Diet
By: Kentucky Equine Research staff
They’re tiny, cute, and appealing, and just looking at a Miniature Horse makes the average person want to cuddle it and feed it a treat. With obesity being one of the most common problems among Miniature Horses, this very natural response can lead to health challenges in a breed of extremely easy keepers.
Two conditions work together to undermine moderate body condition among Miniature Horses. First, most Miniature Horses do very little if any work, so they burn few calories beyond what is needed for maintenance. Second, as with many small breeds, a Miniature Horse’s metabolism is quite efficient at making the best use of everything it eats. Energy needs are lower than for some other breeds, and any calories that are not immediately needed are stored as fat.
Miniature Horse owners who have owned full-sized horses may be tempted to use similar principles in deciding how much to feed their pint-sized equines. They may get into additional trouble by overestimating the body weight of their charges and figuring feed amounts as a percentage of this figure. Actually, most Miniature Horses weigh no more than 200 to 250 pounds, with some weighing considerably less. Regularly weighing the Miniature Horse on a scale gives the most accurate information on weight loss and gain. Weight tapes are designed for larger animals and are not generally accurate when used on Miniature Horses. One formula for calculating a Miniature’s approximate weight in pounds is (9.36 x girth measurement in inches) + (5 x body length in inches) – 348.5. A seamstress tape is sufficient for taking these measurements.
Unless they are in moderate to heavy work, Miniature Horses don’t need to eat a lot of grain. If a horse is too heavy or is gaining weight, owners have the option of cutting out all grain and feeding a balancer pellet to supply vitamins and mineral without loading up on starch-rich feeds. Even without grain in the diet, full pasture turnout can be problematic for some Miniature Horses, especially if the forage is of very good quality. Muzzling or drylotting can allow them to get exercise and mingle with the herd while avoiding too much grass. Alfalfa hay is too energy-dense for most Miniature Horses; grass hay is a better choice, fed at the rate of about 1.5% of their body weight in hay daily.