Ask an Expert

Pot-Bellied Horse

AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena explains why your horse might be developing a pot belly.

My horse (an off-the-track Thoroughbred) was very thin when I bought him in July, possibly due to his stress level. Now, things changed for the better for him. I ride him every day for about one hour. However, he is growing a pot belly. He eats grain and hay (and I think straw). He is dewormed, so I'm not sure what else to do to keep him healthy.

-- Anna

For the answer to this question, we consulted Nutrena customer support member Jolene Wright.


Other than worms, pot bellied can be a sign that your horse is getting too much stalky type hay or hay that is baled too mature and high in lignin. Hay baled too mature is high in lignin, and horses can't digest lignin.  Hay high in lignin can also be a cause of impaction colic, especially if not enough water is consumed. Hay that is baled during the proper stage will have hemicellulose and cellulose, which is digested by the horse.  Good quality hay baled at the proper stage is important for the horse to reach daily nutrient requirements. During drought conditions, it is common for hay to be baled more mature due to the lack of rain. Drought conditions make it harder to find good quality hay. Alfalfa or grass cubes or pellets can be good alternatives when good quality hay is hard to find.

The hay-to-grain ratio can also cause a pot-bellied look, but more so for young horses. You want to be sure your horse is getting the recommended level of feed for your horse's weight and activity level. A controlled starch and sugar feed is always best, such as

SafeChoice Original.

-- Jolene Wright, Nutrena customer support member