Ask an Expert

Petite Filly

AQHA Corporate Partner Smartpak eases a horse owner's mind about a smaller-than-average young horse.

I bought a 10-month-old American Quarter Horse filly a couple weeks ago. When I went to pick her up, she was much smaller then I thought - about the size of a 4-month-old Quarter Horse. I'm 5'4", and her back is right below my chest. Should I be worried about how small she is? She has some great bloodlines and that's why I bought her. Both of her parents are around 14.2/14.3 hands. My filly is not unhealthy, just very small. I started giving her grain. Should I be feeding her other supplements? I'm also feeding alfalfa-timothy grass hay.

Please let me know if I should be worried.


We turned to AQHA Corporate Partner SmartPak for an answer. SmartPak is the official supplement feeding system of AQHA, and AQHA members receive 5 percent off all purchases.

Dear Joey,

I assume you’ve had your veterinarian examine this filly to make sure there are no health issues. And you don’t mention that she was skinny when you picked her up, so I’m also going to assume that starvation isn’t what’s causing her to be on the small size. Have you asked the stallion and mare owners if either of these animals were small when they were young?

Genetics, exercise and nutrition all factor into the final adult size of a horse. Some of these you can control, and some you can’t.  Don’t make the mistake of overdoing one factor (say, nutrition) to make up for another (genetics, for example). No amount of feeding will make a horse that is genetically programmed to be 14 hands into a 17-hand horse.  However, overfeeding a youngster can result in some serious, even permanent growth disorders that you want to avoid.

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I recommend reading the article “Feeding Young Horses:  It’s Not the Protein!” that I wrote for the American Association of Equine Practitioners a few years ago. It describes the risks associated with feeding too much, as well as how to provide appropriate nutrition to foals and weanlings. Topics include monitoring for an ideal body condition score; the proper protein, calcium and other nutrient levels and ratios; and why grass hay and oats is not a suitable long-term diet for a young horse.

While you’re at it, pick up a copy of the NRC’s Nutrient Requirements for Horses, which is an excellent referral source for properly feeding horses at all life stages - and don’t forget to include your veterinarian in all diet selections.

-- SmartPak medical director and staff veterinarian Dr. Lydia Gray