Feeding Childrens Ponies

Sabrina Barnwell MVB MRCVS on 07 March 2016

Midterm break is already over and now the extended St Patricks Day/ Easter break is looming. This means that in addition to the usual taxi driving duties and after school activities you now need to get ready for doing it all with the horse box attached! Some parents and pony clubs are of course ever eager and have started rallies/competitions already but most people are trying to remember where they left hats/jodhpurs/boots or even the pony after last summer!

What to Feed your Child’s Pony

This depends on the usual things; size, age and exercise just like “real” horses but type and temperament are so important for ponies.

Feeding the Overweight Pony

Ad lib forage in the diet is so important for all horses but some ponies will eat far more than their needs and just get increasingly rotund. Ponies can get ulcers just like any other equine so extended periods of starvation are ill advised. Ulcers can lead to ponies being grumpy and generally underperforming. Try to turn out in previously well grazed paddocks, use a grazing muzzle or use hay nets with tiny holes or double bag the hay. Anything that allows constant access to forage but limits the rate of intake. (Note: when grazing “bare” paddocks it is important to be vigilant about your worming program and to regularly check faecal egg counts.)

Hard feed will need to be added if you would like your pony to perform, and much loved child to get rosettes! In a general sweeping fashion, the good doers (read fat!) are generally the lazy ones who need a little extra energy to wow the judge in the working hunter or to give that extra whizz in a jump off. However, these ponies will often develop laminitis at the mere mention of hard feed. These ponies can be challenging as they often need a whole management plan rather than just a tweaked diet. Fitness is really important and will improve performance and health.

Reduce Laminitis in Ponies

Sugars are directly linked to laminitis. Reduced sugar/starch content in the diet is very important to avoid laminitis. Avoid oats. Oats are high in sugar and are very easily digested by horses resulting in high short term sugar peaks. Cool and Cooked Mix or Cool Feed Cubes are oat free feeds suitable for ponies. To have an even lower sugar diet with slow releasing energy sources use Horse Care 10 Cubes.

Managing Skinny Ponies

In typical pony fashion “The Skinny Ones” fall into two categories,

  1. “The Young Ones”, who you will try to put condition on for about two years then they turn into “The Fat Ones” for the rest of their lives, and
  2. “The Buzzy Ones”, that you are really scared to feed lots so that the child can stay attached.

Let’s discuss “The Buzzy Ones” first!

It’s not that they are bad, they are just very excited to be doing their job… honest.

In a nutshell anything with oats in the ingredients is for these ponies like putting your children on a full time diet of cola and sweets…. It’s going to get messy and somebody might actually lose an eye. Use a feed that releases the energy in a slow steady manner over the course of the day. Horse Care 10 is brilliant for temperament because it’s full of super fibre ingredients keeping the energy levels constant.

Absolutely definitely make sure that the pony has ad lib forage. Add chaff to the feed bucket, this will slow down the digestion process, making sure that the pony gets all the value of the feed and improves body condition. Add linseed oil, this is a great source of calories for body condition without causing temperament issues.

“The Young Ones”

These ponies will need a diet very similar to The Buzzy Ones. Most young ponies will benefit from having a slow releasing energy feed that will make the world seem a lot less scary as they learn their trade. Young ponies however may need a little more protein and more vitamins and minerals so that they can grow properly as well as doing their job. Most feed products with higher protein levels also have higher energy levels will may not suit a young pony with a young jockey. Adding a balancer such as GROCARE Balancer will boost the protein, vitamins and minerals in the feed without providing excess energy which could manifest in temperament issues. The increased protein will support muscle growth and really improve the top line of young ponies.

How Much to Feed your Pony

This is a really difficult question to answer when talking about ponies. Feed requirements are calculated according to weight and ponies come in literally all shapes and sizes. It is generally advised to weigh your horse and to weigh your feed scoop (with feed in it!). This is particularly important for ponies.

Having a weighbridge is ideal but not essential. Weight tapes are easily used and cheap. Even getting girth and length measurements with a regular measuring tape can be used in formulas or on “calculators” available on the internet.

Regularly checking the weight of your pony will help you to adapt the diet throughout the year. It may also be an early warning for laminitis prone ponies to detect when the pounds are piling on. For ponies in need of condition, it is useful to be able to record increasing weight rather than trying to convince yourself that the diet is working without proof. (The weigh tape will not accurately account for improved top line so keeping a photo diary is also very useful.)

Weigh your feed scoop. Borrowing the kitchen scales for a few minutes will hugely improve how accurate your feeding is, remember to weigh different feedstuffs because they won’t all be the same! (Cubes are generally heavier than the mixes).

Most feeds are recommended to be fed at a rate of 0.5kg per 100kg of pony in moderate work, but always read the label. Whatever amount you need to feed per day, it is best to feed it divided up into as many small feeds as possible.

For advice tailored to your specific situation, to discuss a diet plan for high performance ponies or information on feeding ponies with laminitis please contact our nutrition team

Tags: Feeding Ponies, Laminitis, Ulcers