It could be the case that your horse is not getting enough feed to fuel the work that is being asked plus maintain body condition plus put on muscle and topline. Sometimes just increasing the feed will achieve the desired results. A good indicator of this is to look at overall body condition, cover over the ribs, over the shoulders, over the quarters. If your horse is lacking in muscle cover/body condition in general, then you may just simply have to increase the amount of feed that you are giving.
However, if you’re worried that increasing feed intake is going to affect energy levels then consider switching to a similar feed but with lower energy or to a feed formulated with alternative energy sources such as fibers and oils. For example, if you’re feeding Competition 14 Mix and you want to feed more for condition but worried about energy levels then you could switch to Competition 12 Mix, you can feed more of it and energy levels won’t be affected.
Or you could switch to a different type of feed, one formulated with fibers and oils. Fibers and oils are sometimes called alternative energy sources or slow release energy sources. They provide similar energy levels to cereal grains but the breakdown process is very different. Fibers and oils are also very conditioning, so can help two-fold, they are very conditioning plus they don’t make a horse excitable so allow for increased feeding rates. An example would be switching from Competition 10 Mix to Horse Care 10 Pellets – nutritionally both provide similar levels of energy and protein, but one is cereal grain based the other is fiber and oil based, so the type of energy they provide is very different, and allows you to increase feeding rates without affecting energy levels.
To increase body condition many feed a ‘senior’ feed or a ‘high fat topdress’ for the high fat content and increased calorie intake. High fat feedstuffs will put on body condition but will do little in terms of putting on muscle and topline. A horse on a high fat diet will look well, have great weight and excellent shine, but will lack in muscle tone, definition and topline. Whereas a horse on a high fat and a high protein feedstuff will have excellent weight and shine, but will also have excellent muscle tone, definition and topline, and will look the athlete that he is supposed to be.
Protein is absolutely necessary for muscle development and needs to be a part of the performance horse’s diet. The feeding of senior feeds or high fat topdress products is not ideal when feeding the high level performance horse if it is muscle and topline that you are trying to achieve. When considering a product to feed that will give you both body condition and muscle and topline always ensure that the product is not only high in fat but also high in protein. Cool N Conditioning Pellets is a high fat, high protein pelleted feed. Ideal for the high level performance horse needing additional body condition, muscle and topline. It is also cereal grain free making it very low in starch, so an excellent choice for a particularly hot or excitable horse, or any horse suffering from muscular or digestive issues.
Protein is essential in muscle development, if there is a deficiency in protein there will be a deficiency in muscle development. Look at your horse’s diet and look at protein intake. If you’re on a low protein feed and you’re struggling with muscle and topline, consider moving up to a higher protein feed in order to increase protein intake. An example would be moving from Horse Care 10 Pellets (10% protein) to Horse Care 14 Pellets (14% protein).
But it is not just about quantity of protein in the diet but also about the quality of protein. You can have a high protein feed but formulated with inferior proteins that will do little for muscle development, or you can have a low protein feed but formulated with quality proteins that will do wonders for muscle development. Feed manufactures need to declare the quantity of protein in their feed but that percentage value on the feed tag tells us little about the quality of protein in that feed. Two feeds can declare similar protein content but can differ greatly in protein quality. Always chose a performance feed from a reputable manufacturer with trusted formations and that only use quality protein sources eg soyabean. If in doubt trial similar products from different brands, if a difference in muscle is noted after switching you can take it the quality of protein differs.
But if you would prefer to stick with the feed that you are on and would just like to increase protein intake for improved muscle gain, a great way of doing this is by topdressing with a feed balancer. Feed balancers, such as PerformaCare Balancer, are formulated with excellent quality proteins and are an ideal way to improve the diet nutritionally without affecting calorie intake ie weight gain and/or energy.
If you are happy with the weight of your horse but would like more muscle and more energy, you could try supplementing with Foran Equine PreFuel. This is a hydrolyzed protein supplement that provides readily available amino acids for rapid muscle development in the performance horse.
There are two things involved in muscle development – workload and protein. You can’t have one without the other. If the horse is not getting adequate protein in the diet the horse is not going to put on muscle. The same can be said for training and work. The horse may be getting plenty of protein but if not getting the work to use that protein to build muscle the horse is not going to put on muscle. If nutritionally you are meeting protein requirements and are having muscle development issues, look at your training program and see how it can be improved on to promote muscle cover and topline development.
Is it possible that your horse is young and just needs time? All horses mature at different rates. You will find that large framed big boned horses mature much slower than say a more compact smaller horse. And it could be genetics, your horse may come from a line of slow developers. It is always important to consider this in a young horse. If what is visible is underdeveloped eg frame, muscle cover, mind, then you can be certain that what you don’t see is also underdeveloped ie bone structure and soft tissue development. Over-facing or over-working a young underdeveloped horse could have drastic consequences for the horses future potential. Always take things much slower with an underdeveloped horse. For a young developing horse it is absolutely critical that nutritional requirements are met for his stage of development, most importantly quality protein and minerals involved in bone development. Topdressing with a feed balancer, such as PerformaCare Balancer, would be strongly recommended. It is an easy way of increasing the nutritional density of the diet in a very balanced and safe way.
Musculo-skeletal issues will affect how the horse uses himself. If nutritionally you are meeting requirements but are struggling with muscle and topline gain consider having your horse checked for any underlying issues that may be affecting his way of going and how he works himself.
Gastric ulcers and hindgut issues can oftentimes change how and where a horse develops muscle. The pain and discomfort that they feel in their gut can affect how they carry themselves and use themselves, which in turn can affect their body shape and where they develop muscle. It is always very important to consider gut health when experiencing topline and muscle development issues.
Link to ‘possible hindgut issue’?