By Jyme Nichols, PhD, sponsored by Bluebonnet Feeds

Here are a few general recommendations for hard keepers. These may sound simple but can have a profound impact on how the horse utilizes nutrition.

  1. Have teeth evaluated by a reputable equine dental specialist at least every 12 months. Even little things like an underbite or overbite (which most horses have) can cause hooks and ramps to develop on the molars where we can’t see. These overgrowths can cause the teeth to lock up when chewing or cause ulcers on the cheeks and tongue. All of this can cause a horse to lose the desire to eat so they take in less food than they actually need. It can also cause them to shorten the range of motion while chewing so they don’t get a good grind and breakdown of food before swallowing. This means the digestive system can’t extract as many nutrients which can lead to a horse being a hard keeper.
  2. Provide 24/7 access to forage. Horses are designed to eat forage (hay and/or pasture) continuously throughout the day and night. If they spend parts of the day or night on an empty stomach they can start to develop ulcers and anxiety. Both of which can cause a horse to be a hard keeper.
  3. If you already offer 24/7 access to forage, and you have properly addressed teeth conditions, you should consider adding some alfalfa to the diet. Even a couple pounds morning and night on top of the grass hay or pasture already being offered can make a big difference in improving body condition.
  4. Consider your horse’s stress level. Stress from training, hauling, being in a stall, missing buddy horses, drugs, antibiotics, surgeries, etc. can all cause dysbiosis (imbalanced microbial populations in the gut). The microbes in the hind gut are responsible for turning fiber into energy (calories) for the horse. If the microbes are out of balance the horse may become a hard keeper even though they are getting plenty to eat.

Nutrition is a critical, and an often overlooked component when it comes to the success of the equine athlete. Horse owners frequently spend much time and money on trainers, saddles, therapies, and all of the latest accessories, but forget the foundation of the horse is what goes into the body. Nutrition plays a large role in maximizing genetic potential, so it is highly recommended you work with an equine nutritionist to fine-tune your horse’s program. Free nutrition consultations are available through Bluebonnet Feeds by emailing [email protected].

About the Author:
Dr. Jyme Nichols is an ARPAS certified Professional Animal Scientist (PAS) in the Equine discipline. She is the Director of Nutrition for Bluebonnet Feeds and Stride Animal Health. Dr. Nichols has been part of the Bluebonnet Feeds team since 2011, and currently resides in Sentinel, OK with her husband and two children.


Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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