Do Ponies Need Grain? Vitamin & Mineral Alternatives

I have a 6 YO small pony (40″ & about 450 lbs.) and I think she needs to lose weight. She eats Timothy hay and 1/3 Cup of Omolene 100 2X’s a day. I am not certain that this small amount of grain is supplying the nutrition she needs. There is little to no grass in her paddock so I give her 4-5 lbs. of Timothy a day. I am interested in the SmartVite EZ keeper-grass formula. Please advise on dosage if appropriate for her. Thank You, AR, Florida

Dear AR,

Without knowing the breed of your pony or her body condition score, I’ll just have to take your word for it that she needs to lose weight. First, let’s analyze her diet starting with the forage. She doesn’t get any pasture grass and that’s probably a good thing. Ponies are especially prone to laminitis from the sugars in grass. Four to five pounds of grass hay per day though is only 1% of her body weight, if you’ve estimated or measured her correctly at 450 pounds. Experts recommend that horses receive a minimum of 1.5% of their body weight per day in forage so I’m concerned she’s not getting enough long-stem forage for GI health. If you think your estimates of the weight of your pony and the weight of your hay are accurate, try soaking her hay for 30 – 60 minutes before feeding to remove simple sugars and starches from it that she doesn’t need. That way, you might be able to feed her closer to the recommended six or seven pounds of hay per day.

Next, let’s look at her grain. Unless you’re using the sweet feed to mix supplements in, I see no reason to give her any grain at all. Instead, meet her protein, vitamin and mineral needs with either a ration balancer or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. I’m sure 1/3 a cup of grain twice a day is less than the bag recommends, meaning right now she’s deficient in these nutrients. So take away these extra calories and add back in protein, vitamins and minerals to bridge any gaps between the grass hay and her daily nutrient requirements. Because of her size, I recommend a half-dose of any regular horse supplements such as the SmartVite EZ Keeper Grass.

And don’t forget about exercise, which has been shown to be a valuable component of a weight loss program whether you’re a horse, human, dog or other species. Turn out is nice, but most overweight animals are going to need to be encouraged to move around. Daily round pen work, lunging, riding, driving, ponying and even handwalking are all excellent ways to burn calories and increase metabolism.

Finally, keep your veterinarian in-the-loop regarding your plan to slim down your pony. He or she can help you weigh and body condition score her now so you can keep a journal of her progress. Your veterinarian can also review your nutritional and exercise programs to make sure they are appropriate, as well as assess your pony for medical conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome that may make weight loss more challenging. If this is the case, there are prescription medications such as Thyro-L that can “jumpstart” her metabolism as well as supplements designed to support health metabolic function.