Ask Horse Journal: Hay Pellets or Stretchers

Ihave a 20-year-old Thoroughbred, hard keeper who is on pretty good quality grass all day (quality round bale during winter) and 3 to 4 large flakes of hay per evening. He also gets little quality senior (low starch) grain morning and night (I am not a big fan of grain for horses). He started to lose weight, so we added beet pulp, which did not work.

I recently started him on 2 large scoops daily of Blue Seal Hay Stretcher to gain weight (which worked), but I would much rather give him hay pellets than ?oat hulls, etc.,? so I am considering a switch to hay pellets.

He is somewhat prone to colic and he tends to get hot on grain, so I figured timothy hay pellets were probably the best bet. ?I would like your advice on a few things because there is so much information out there, I don’t know what is reliable.

1) Do hay pellets generally make a horse ?hot?’

2) Are hay pellets more nutritious than a hay stretcher (with oat hulls, alfalfa meal, etc)’

2) Do hay pellets have any omega 3?s’ (I may supplement with ground flax seed for weight and nutrition, but before I spend money on supplements, I want to know if the pellets might help with weight gain and omegas).

3) Do you think the pellets will help with weight gain’

4) Do hay pellets cause colic’?

Nutrition Editor Dr. Juliet Getty Responds: When a horse needs to gain weight, it’s important to pay attention to both the foregut (where carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are digested) as well as the hindgut (where the microbial population produces digestive enzymes that digest fibers).? The hay pellets or hay replacers you describe offer your horse calories via hindgut microbial digestion. Both types will provide fiber, and your horse will benefit from the variety of forages to boost the overall protein quality.

Rather than a hay stretcher, I would consider alfalfa pellets to not only add more calories but to provide more amino acids that round out and improve the protein quality.? They don’t make a horse hot, nor do they promote colic.

But regardless of the fiber source, it is advisable to provide a prebiotic (we like Ration Plus at, 800-728-4667) to your horse’s diet to boost the overall numbers of bacteria living in the cecum and large colon. This will make digestion more efficient, resulting in more calories derived from forage.

Since your horse is already receiving forage on a free-choice basis (be sure he doesn’t run out of hay during the night), use the hay pellets as a carrier for more supplementation.

Omega 3s are an important component of the diet and they aren?t found in hay pellets (or to any large extent in any hay, for that matter).? Add a ground flaxseed product that is stabilized. We like Nutra-Flax (, 800-831-3309) as it has a small amount of calcium added to balance out the naturally high levels of phosphorus found in flax.? Feed ? cup per 400 lbs. of body weight.

Vitamins and minerals may also need to be added, especially those vitamins that no longer exist in hay. Once fresh grass is cut, dried and stored, it loses vitamins C, D and E, plus beta-carotene (used to make vitamin A) and essential fatty acids.

Consider a comprehensive supplement to fill in all the nutritional gaps. We like IntegriHoof (, 800-332-5244) and Life Data Lab?s Farrier?s Formula (, 800-624-1873).

If more calories are needed, you can add fat in the form of rice bran or rice bran oil.? Avoid soybean or corn oils since they are too high in omega 6s, creating an imbalance that can promote inflammation.

Finally, it’s best to moisten pellets rather than feeding them dry. Some horses are prone to choke when consuming hard pellets at too fast a rate.? Also feed on the ground, using a ground feeder, rather than one that is at shoulder height.??


My horse loses tempo. If I get him moving nicely forward and try to collect him a little, he loses impulsion. I feel like the gas pedal gets stuck. What exercises can I do so that I’m not constantly pulling on his mouth to get him to slow down, then urging him forward because he slows down too much’

?Associate Editor Margaret Freeman responds: You never want to use a hand aid that is stronger than the leg aid.? it’s important to remember that connection issues originate behind the saddle, so if your horse slows down too much when you give a hand aid there wasn?t enough leg to begin with.? Think uphill with all your aids and also with your position. Too much rein aid that isn?t backed up with a leg aid, puts the horse on his forehand, just as would too much leg aid not backed up with a steady rein aid.

Also, if you tend to tilt forward with your upper body when you use your hands and legs, this also sends the horse onto his forehand, so he loses his balance and either speeds up or slows down to get comfortable over his four feet again.? If you use too much leg aid and rotate your heel up around your knee, this also tilts you forward and affects the horses balance.

As for exercises, do frequent quick transitions.? With each transition evaluate the horse’s response and assess your aids/position accordingly.? Here is an example:? Go on a 20-meter circle and alternate posting trot and sitting trot every eight strides.? If the horse changes in any way when you post or sit’speeds up, slows down, inverts his neck ?make a change in your equitation and see how the horse responds the next time you post or sit.

Another transition exercise is again on a 20-meter circle.? Do quick trot/walk transitions?trot several strides, then walk but for just one step, and trot again.? Each time try for less hand aid on the downward transition and the lightest aid you can use that will achieve a crisp upward transition.? You can do the same ?thing with canter/trot transitions, except alternate half a circle of canter with half a circle of trot.?????


The glucosamine/MSM/chondroitin supplements I’ve used had trace amounts of each, so I am not convinced they did my old horse any good. Still, searching hundreds of supplements is hard. For example, when I find one with 100mg HA, they are short of everything else. What should I do’

Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller, DVM, responds:? Yes, there are hundreds of joint supplements on the market.? Searching through all of them can be overwhelming, but we published our criteria and top picks in? January and February 2012 to help you.

When looking for solutions for your elderly horse, keep in mind:

1)? Following our advice on recommended levels of ingredients increases the chance of success.

2) Use a double dose ?loading dose? of a joint supplement for the first two weeks.

3) Sometimes, oral supplements need to be changed up a bit. If you aren?t getting a result with one brand, try a different product.

4) If you aren?t seeing satisfactory results with oral supplements, it may be time to try an injectable like Legend or Adequan (Sept. 2011).

5) You may even have to use multiple joint supplements in order to achieve enough of an effect to keep an old horse comfortable.

6) Sometimes, a horse needs actual prescribed medication to ward away joint pain.? One such medication is Equiloxx/Previcox, a non-steroidal Cox-2 selective anti-inflammatory that is designed for long-term, once-a-day use to aid in the control of musculoskeletal inflammation. In more severe cases, your vet may need to inject cortisone directly into the joints to help control inflammation and pain.

7) Make sure that you determine how many scoops of the product are required to equal one serving. ?Then, make sure that the serving has decent amounts of supplement (this is where our recommended ingredient levels can come in handy).

8) Weight control and allowing the horse to be out and moving as much as possible still remain the most effective ways to aid in control of arthritis pain.

9) If you haven’t yet stopped riding, but you’re noticing that your horse is increasingly painful despite the supplements, consider retiring him.

10) As much as we try to help owners through various horse issues without telling them to call their vet, it may be a good idea to run things past yours when determining an arthritis management plan for your horse.

No one management plan or supplement will work the same for every horse. it’s not easy to figure out what works for your horse, but don’t give up! it’s worth the effort, and we’re here to help.


Is it safe to feed my horse a small amount of flaxseed oil for its omega 3 benefits’ He has raised liver enzymes and had a biopsy that showed fibrosis possibly due to ragwort poisoning, but they say it could have been another hepatic insult. I gave him six months of hefty steroids, which made no difference, so I stopped. He looks great, and I want to optimize his nutrition to give him a happy life. He is 21. I have Dr. Getty?s book on nutrition and have had advice from some nutritionists not to feed oil. One has said that as my horse doesn’t have ?fatty liver syndrome? and he can’t see that a small amount of flax oil would do him any harm. My horse is at livery and not always on good pasture. At the moment he is box rested for a tendon injury. He has spavin in both hocks and ringbone in his right fore. His normal routine would be to go out during the day and stabled at night. Can I feed oil’

?Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge DVM responds: I really can’t give a definitive answer without knowing exactly what liver enzymes are up on your horse and exactly what his diet currently is. However, that being said, flaxseed meal is generally not recommended for older horses with liver problems due to the protein level. Ask your vet about milk thistle, which is generally regarded as safe and effective for liver problem in many species.

I understand your desire to increase your horse’s omega 3s. I suggest trying to find places where your horse can graze, even if it means hand walking him to places with some fresh grass. Avoid areas along the road due to exhaust fumes and possible chemicals from roadwork.

Or, pick grass from around home (make sure no sprays or lawn treatments are used) and bring that with you when you go to the barn. But you must feed it immediately (and no mower clippings!).

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