How to Put Weight on a Thoroughbred Horse

Thoroughbreds are a racing breed, and as such may have higher metabolisms.
Thoroughbreds are a racing breed, and as such may have higher metabolisms. (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The thoroughbred breed of horse is the unfortunate target of many stereotypes, particularly if it is coming off the racetrack. One of those stereotypes is that thoroughbreds are “hard keepers” – have difficulties gaining and maintaining weight. Remember a thoroughbred is usually bred for racing and thus may have a higher metabolism. Sent to the track as youngsters, thoroughbreds are used to strenuous work, and a lot of good-tasting food! Take them out of that environment, feed them “plain” hay, and they may very well turn their noses up for a time. Give them time to adjust, be patient, and monitor their overall health as well as eating habits.

Things You'll Need

  • Dewormer
  • Oil
  • Horse quality hay or alfalfa
  • Beet pulp
  • Weight gain supplement

Have your veterinarian or equine dentist check your thoroughbred’s teeth. In order to gain weight, a horse needs to properly chew and digest its food. If your horse is dropping food when it eats, eats slowly, exhibits head tossing while being ridden, or otherwise seems to object when you take up contact with the reins, those could be signs of dental problems.

Dental problems can prevent weight gain in horses.
Dental problems can prevent weight gain in horses. (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Deworm your horse. Internal parasites can cause weight loss and prevent weight gain. If you have a thoroughbred on a regular deworming schedule, take a fecal sample to your vet for analysis; parasites in certain parts of the country can develop an immunity to some dewormers. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best type of dewormer and schedule. A daily dewormer offers a lower, continuous dose, which may be more effective for some thoroughbreds.

Increase your thoroughbred's forage. Forage is hay or pasture grass. If your horse currently gets most of its forage from pasture, have your grass tested for nutritional content; if there is something lacking you can supplement with a few daily flakes of hay or alfalfa, or a combination. You can also add alfalfa or hay in chopped, cubed or pelleted versions.

Have your pasture grass tested for nutritional content or supplement with hay.
Have your pasture grass tested for nutritional content or supplement with hay. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Add a fat source to your horse’s diet. Oils rich in Omega 3, such as flaxseed oil, offer several health benefits in addition to added calories from fat. Tom Tower, owner of One Iron Horse Farm in Dripping Springs, Texas, also recommends rice bran and wheat germ oils as favorable options; you can also add corn oil but Tower cautions that the Omega 6 content, while beneficial, can actually increase inflammation in some horses.

Add beet pulp to your horse’s diet. Beet pulp is high in fiber and easy to digest. Soak it a few hours prior to feeding. You can feed it alone or add it to your horse’s daily grain. Tower notes that there are also several beet pulp-based grains on the market today, eliminating the need to add beet pulp separately. If you already feed your horse grain, switching to one of these grains may be an easier option.

You can buy beet pulp at most feed and horse supply stores.
You can buy beet pulp at most feed and horse supply stores. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Add a weight gain supplement. Your equine supply store likely carries several weight gain supplements you can add to your horse’s grain. If possible, ask your equine friends for a recommendation. Not all horses respond similarly to the same product, so be prepared to switch if you do not see results within the period recommended by the manufacturer. Check the ingredients; you may find that you can add the same ingredients, such as flaxseed or rice bran oil, for less money.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your horse is currently not on grain, try adding some once or twice a day. If you already have your horse on grain, check the manufacturer's recommendation on daily intake. If you are feeding enough according to the recommendations, try switching brands. Senior grains, for example, are made with forage "built-in," which can help hard keepers.
  • Do not respond to a weight loss or attempt to add pounds by simply adding more and more grain. It is not necessarily good for your horse and could lead to digestive or other physical problems.

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