Mi papi is low energy. And that's been specifically maintained in his past. High energy Theo is a lot of horse to handle and is not appropriate for a school horse. I've met high energy Theo a couple of times. I enjoy it, but I know I'm making the fuse shorter on the powder keg. It requires careful handling and you don't want it to be inconsistent. I want him to have a slow burning, cool energy source. Make the work seem easier to him while not making him crazy. It's everyone's dream, of course, and rarely achieved completely.
Wake up, papi
I'll admit that I never really looked into Theo's diet after I bought him. Bad, owner, bad. He's the first time I've bought a horse that I've known before that purchase decision was made. He was already settled into a routine that had served him well for about two years. When I started riding him regularly, he started to lose weight. They upped his grain, I added a supplement pack, and eventually we added a fat and protein supp as well. I bought him but left his food alone. I'm generally in the camp of not messing with stuff that's not broken.
However, the demands on Theo keep increasing. He's far from a plodding school pony now. He's expected to work 45 minutes to an hour six days a week, and it's not walk/trot lessons. He canters in five minute blocks, he does transition sets that are like weightlifting. He burns calories and has to rebuild muscle. While he's made a lot of progress, there's a certain amount of bloom that hasn't occurred. I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something is missing, a block that he needs in his foundation.
I decided to dig into his diet and see where improvements can be made. I expected a nutritional limit was keeping him from really blooming.
Hay: Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day
Grain: Mane Menu twice a day, 2 lbs a feeding, 0.5 pounds of Omegatin once a day
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no real grass 5 months of the year, NH sucks that way
First thing I did was look up Mane Menu. It's meant for horses in maintenance or light performance. 11% protein, 3% fat, 15% fiber. Starch content isn't listed anywhere but if it's anything like it's close sibling Strider, it's pretty high (Strider is 33% NSC). A good choice for a horse that's getting limited grain and is in a school program as a beginner specialist, but it's the bargain level stuff. There's a lot of molasses and ground corn while there's no specification on the type of protein.
There's problem number one. The protein in his diet is too low and isn't high enough quality. Lysine is a limiter and there's no percentage of lysine given for his grain. The grass hay he's on isn't high protein either, probably 9% (hasn't been tested this year, the drought has hay supplies kind of thin). At four pounds of grain a day, he's on the minimum recommended grain ration for his size for that brand. Even with the 15% protein Omegatin being added, it's not enough. A horse in work like him should be at about 10% - 12% protein total for his diet, including the hay. Theo was clocking in at 9.3% and probably deficient in specific amino acids.
There's also the matter of him being half Percheron while needing increased energy. Perchs aren't known for their ability to process starches correctly. Drafts in general are prone to that little family of disorders most often listed as EPSM. I've met a couple of drafts with variations on this complicated disorder. Sore muscles and tying up are the usual symptoms. Starch is also fun for causing blood sugar swings and related mood swings. Not exactly the type of energy source I'm looking for. Theo doesn't need encouragement in being a jerk.
Very attractive jerk horse
After doing a ridiculous amount of research and math, Theo's new diet is as follows.
Hay: Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day (six flakes)
Grain: CarbGuard twice a day, 2 lbs per feeding, 0.5lbs of Omegatin per feeding
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no pasture 5 months of the year
This should get Theo's protein up to about 9.6% of his total diet without affecting his total calories. CarbGuard also includes supplemental amino acids, so I know he's getting the right kind of protein. This grain is 12% protein, 8% fat, and 25% fiber. The starch is very low, about 8%. This should swap him from quick burn sugars to slow burn fats and fiber for his energy sources. If he settles into this without problems, we'll move him up to 5lbs of CarbGuard a day. That should get his calories where they belong for light/moderate work and push his protein close to the 10% mark.
The question will be how his energy levels change. My data is a bit jumbled as it's also going into winter and a lot of horses are being snorty and up. Not mi papi, of course, because that would be work and work is dumb. I feel like our relationship and work is at a point where we can handle him being a bit snorty and fresh. He's not a lesson horse anymore and the occasional incident is okay in exchange for having some impulsion. And I'd have to kick less. That would be awesome.
Seriously, wake up
The change is being done gradually, he's currently on half CarbGuard. So far no difference, but I take that as a good sign. I expect, once he's moved over and his body is used to using fat instead of starch, that I'll be able to up his energy without him blowing his little pony lid. It's going to be a matter of carefully tuning his diet to get him the stuff he needs without upping his calories too much. I don't want my little air fern to get fat. I expect he'll be getting 5 - 6 pounds of grain a day and that I'll be messing with the ratios between CarbGuard and Omegatin to dial it in to what he needs.
This whole project has been kind of insane. I've got sheets of calculations, printed out grain labels, and a 'what if' spreadsheet. I'm starting to think I might be a bit obsessive about my horse.