FAQ Horse Care

How to Put Weight on a Horse Fast (and Safely)

horse weight gain
Written by Holly N.

Horse Weight Gain Tips

Some horses put on weight every time they look at food, while others seem to battle to keep it on regardless of what you do. Just when you think you’ve found the right balance of exercise and nutrition, the weight starts dropping off again!

It can be extremely frustrating (and expensive) to cope with a “hard keeper” horse, which is why we’re offering you some tips on how to put weight on a horse fast.

For a horse to put on weight, it needs enough calories and protein to offset the energy it’s burning. There is no exact formula, as every horse is different, but there are a few basic rules you can follow and common mistakes you should try and avoid.

The Equine Diet

Even though wild horses continue to survive on wild grasses and plants alone, the world of equine nutrition is extremely complicated. Let’s keep it as simple as we can.

Horses need six elements in their diet—roughage, water, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Nutrition Basics

Horses are natural grazers, meaning they eat small amounts frequently, and the diet of domestic horses should replicate this as closely as possible—that means plenty of roughage in the form of grass, hay, or other fibrous foods.

In addition to roughage, horses need access to plenty of clean, fresh water. Water helps aid in effective digestion. Without it, horses can experience serious health consequences in as little as 24 hours.

Horses also need carbohydrates and fats to produce energy, protein to develop muscle, and various minerals and vitamins.

You should calculate your horse’s nutritional requirements according to age, weight, activity level, and stage of life. Older horses may need extra protein while growing horses need more energy than adult horses in light work.

If a horse is losing weight, it may suggest he’s not getting the nutrition he needs to compensate for the energy he’s burning.

Although you can reduce your horse’s exercise to help solve the problem, developing a proper feeding plan is generally more effective.

horse feed weight gain

source: canva

Common Feeding Mistakes

If you’re making any of the following mistakes, the chances are your underweight horse won’t gain weight very quickly. Address these issues before tweaking your horse’s daily feeding regime.

Feeding by Volume, Not by Weight

A scoop of grain might weigh 3 lbs one day and 2.75 lbs the next, depending on the type and density of the grain. Two flakes of hay are rarely exactly the same size (therefore not the same weight), nor are two scoops of different concentrates exactly the same.

Equine nutritionists advise weighing your feed to make sure you’re feeding the recommended amount. A simple hanging scale (like those you’d use for fish or even luggage!) is an inexpensive way to spot-check your feeding weights.

Not Accounting for Changes in Exercise

As activity increases, so do nutritional needs. Adding protein is helpful in this scenario as it’s necessary for muscle development.

Not Accounting for Changes in Weather

Horses need additional feed in cold weather as they burn more energy keeping warm. In this situation, the best way to add calories is by increasing your horse’s hay or forage intake—this will add calories and help keep your horse warm.

Making Changes too Fast

The equine digestive system is delicate and abrupt changes can wreak havoc, potentially causing colic. Always make changes gradually to give your horse’s system time to adjust.

For example, if you’re switching grains, make the change over a minimum of 10 days, gradually reducing the proportion of your original grain while increasing that of the new one.

The Hard Keeper

Congratulations, you’ll need to focus on long-term weight gain and maintenance. Certain horse breeds, like those bred for racing, have more active metabolisms than other breeds, making them more likely to be hard keepers.

Horses like this need to consume a minimum of 2% of their body weight daily in forage. If your horse needs to gain weight, consider increasing his fat intake rather than upping his carbohydrates.

horse feed

source: canva

The Skinny Horse

Be careful! You’ll need a double-edge feeding strategy to help the skinny horse, the first stage of which is designed to help him put weight on and the second to maintain a healthy weight.

A horse will put weight on quickly when fed a high-fat, high-protein concentrate combined with good-quality hay or alfalfa, but only if there’s no underlying medical condition.


Horses need to eat 2% of their body weight in forage every day. If your grazing isn’t sufficient to provide this, you’ll need to supplement your horse’s diet with hay.

To get your horse to gain weight, you can increase the amount of forage to 3% of your horse’s body weight or switch to a higher protein forage like alfalfa.

Alfalfa Hay

Alfalfa contains more protein and calcium than other types of hay, which makes it ideal for the underweight horse.

Once your horse reaches an optimal weight, you may want to reduce or replace some of your horse’s forage with hay, as alfalfa can be too rich for horses only needing a maintenance diet.

Hay Pellets and Cubes

You can also buy hay and alfalfa that’s been processed into cubes or pellets. These products are easier to store and less likely to mold than bales.

Cubes and pellets also minimize waste but can be time-consuming as they need soaking for 30 minutes to an hour before feeding. This process softens the cubes, reducing the risk of impaction colic and choke.


A hard keeper is unlikely to maintain its optimum weight on forage alone and will often benefit from the additional calories provided by a grain-based feed.

Grain feed is available in various forms, including pellets, extruded and textured feeds.

Extruded feeds tend to be less dense than other grain feeds and are also the easiest to digest as the cooking process helps the nutrients break down.

You can find out more about the different types of feed in this article.

What is the best horse feed to put weight on?

Glad you asked! You can help your horse gain weight by utilizing a high-calorie horse feed, or by topdressing your existing feed with a weight gain supplement.

Fortunately, we’re going to cover both in this article!

High-Calorie Grain for Hard-Keeping Horses

These three high-calorie horse feeds are available nationwide and specifically designed for hard keepers or horses in heavy work.

The following feeds are all designed for performance horses. They contain higher levels of protein and fat than most maintenance feeds, and are designed to support your horse’s digestive system.

Grain for Gains Features & Facts Price Point
Nutrena Pro Force Fuel A textured feed with all the bells and whistles you could ask for when it comes to performance horses $$
Purina Omolene Competition Helps maintain gut pH for optimal gastric health $$
Kalm Ultra High Fat Horse Feed Can be fed as your primary grain or as a topdress $$

Nutrena Pro-Force Fuel

Designed for hard-keepers and performance horses, this high-fat, controlled starch horse feed helps support better muscle tone and digestive health.

It also contains trace minerals that boost the immune system and a specific amino acid profile designed to improve your horse’s topline.

Key Features:

13% Crude Protein
10% Max Crude Fiber
13% Crude Fat

Point of Differentiation:

Contains more fat and protein than other performance feeds

Purina Omolene Competition

This feed combines natural nutrition with gastric support to help hard keepers improve condition.

It contains antioxidants, prebiotic fibers, high-quality grains and a blend of fatty acids, including flaxseed, rice bran, and vegetable oil.

Key Features:

12% Crude Protein
9% Max Crude Fiber
8% Crude Fat

Point of Differentiation:

Contains soluble carbohydrates and supports gastric health by maintaining the correct pH

Kalm Ultra High Fat Horse Feed by Tribute

This soft, pelleted feed is both calorie-dense and contains pre- and probiotics to support your horse’s digestive system. It contains no corn or nonstructural carbohydrates, making it easier on the gut and reducing the chances of your horse becoming too hot.

This high fat feed can be used as the primary concentrate or added to another grain feed as a top dressing supplement.

Key Features:

12% Crude Protein
12% Max Crude Fiber
12% Crude Fat

Point of Differentiation:

This feed can be used as a performance feed or can be added as a topdress on your normal grain.

Weight-Gain Supplements

Weight gain supplements are a safe and effective way of increasing your horse’s calorie consumption so that he gains weight more quickly. Three tried-and-true products include:

Weight Gain Supplements Features & Facts Price Point
Shredded Beet Pulp When soaked, this makes a great mash for helping keep equines hydrated in cold temps $$
Vegetable Oil Easily available at any grocery store $
Triple-K Finish Supplement Specifically formulated to aid in both weight gain and improved coat/appearance $$

High-Calorie Supplements for Skinny Horses

More high-calorie supplements contain either fat or highly-digestible fiber and are fed alongside forage and grain-based feeds.

Shredded Beet Pulp

Beet pulp is more of a forage feed than anything else but contains more digestible energy than hay. It’s also a prebiotic that “helps promote a healthy microbial population in the hindgut.”

It’s also high in calories, and can be used as a top-dressed supplement to help your horse gain weight and boost his energy levels.

shredded beet pulp

See Shredded Beet Pulp at Amazon

Key Features:

8% Crude Protein
17% Max Crude Fiber
1% Crude Fat

Point of Differentiation:

Beet pulp is an excellent source of dietary fiber but needs soaking before feeding

Vegetable Oil

Adding vegetable oil to your horse’s feed is a great way of boosting his calorie intake without increasing the volume of food.

For it to work effectively as a weight-gain supplement, you’ll need to add up to 100 ml per 100 kg of body weight, which would equate to roughly 500 ml for a 500 kg horse.

Key Features

Although the nutritional content of vegetable oils does vary, a tablespoon of most varieties contains approximately 14g of fat, meaning that a 500ml serving will give him an additional 473g of fat.

Point of Differentiation:

Vegetable oil is more affordable than many weight-gain supplements and can be easily added to your horse’s existing grain feed.

Tribute K-Finish Supplement

This supplement contains a whopping 25% fat and is extruded for easy digestion.

The combination of soybeans, rice bran, and flaxseed, also provide vital omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which support normal tissue function, and improve your horse’s skin and coat.

K-Finish supplement for horses

See this supplement at Amazon

Key Features:

12% Crude Protein
8% Max Crude Fiber
25% Crude Fat

Point of Differentiation:

The high fat content of this supplement helps boost the condition of underweight horses, but is potentially too rich to be used as part of a maintenance diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the best supplement for a senior horse to gain weight?

Beet pulp is a great source of extra calories for senior horses. It provides more calories per pound than hay, can be soaked to make it easy to chew and digest, and is also a great source of fiber.

Q: How long does it take to put weight on a thin horse?

Given the correct diet, an underweight horse’s condition show improvement within a week whereas extremely thin horses with a baseline body condition score of less than three may take several months to show a noticeable improvement.

Q: What are the best home remedies to make a horse gain weight?

If your horse isn’t eating, you can try herbal remedies to stimulate his appetite. Yarrow is particularly effective, although fenugreek is also an option.

Adding herbs to your horse’s diet won’t add weight as fast as free access to forage, but could help improve his appetite.

Q: What is the best horse feed to put weight on?

Free access to high-quality forage, especially alfalfa, is the most effective way of getting a horse to gain weight.

Grain feeds and supplements that are high in fat and fiber can speed up their weight gain but have little effect on their own.

Q: What can I give my horse to gain weight fast?

A grain feed like those listed above contains high levels of protein and fat compared to maintenance feeds and will help your horse gain weight faster.

Free access to alfalfa will also accelerate weight gain.

Q: How do you make a horse gain weight and muscle?

Protein is the most critical nutrient for stimulating a horse’s muscle development, while fat will help him gain weight.

Performance grain feeds contain high levels of both with some, like Nutrena Pro-Force Fuel, being specifically designed to improve your horse’s topline.

Q: How can I fatten up my skinny horse?

A combination of free access to alfalfa, a high-quality performance feed, and weight-gain supplements is the best way of fattening up a skinny horse.

horse eating hay

source: canva

Parting Thoughts

To put on weight, a horse needs to consume more calories than he burns in energy, which means providing high-calorie foods that contain both protein and fat. Free access to good forage is essential for any horse but particularly critical for those that struggle to keep weight on.

You can help your horse to gain weight simply by swapping his hay for alfalfa, which has a higher protein content.

High-performance grain feeds and weight gain supplements can help your horse gain weight more quickly, but without a foundation of high-quality forage, your horse’s weight is liable to fluctuate—especially if you’re dealing with a hard-keeper.

Further Reading



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About the author


Holly N.

Holly started riding as a six years old in the UK and competed regularly in local events, including showjumping, cross country, showing, working hunter, and gymkhana. She now lives and rides in South Africa, working as a trail guide with Wild Coast Horseback Adventures. Her interests are primarily in the areas of DIY horse ownership, trail riding, barefoot horses, endurance, competitive trail riding, and South African breeds.