Health

Avoid a Hay Belly

Improve horse health in your barn by identifying, treating, and preventing hay bellies.

From AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena

Understanding the cause of a hay belly in horses will help you make educated feed choices. Journal photo

Despite regular exercising and balanced feeding, does your horse still look like he or she is in need of a “tummy tuck?” If you’ve ruled out post-colic surgery effects, parasites, and broodmare belly as the cause of the large gut, then it’s likely your horse has a nutritional imbalance. We’ve outlined answers to common questions so you can identify, treat, and prevent a hay belly in your horse.

Q: How can I tell if my horse has a hay belly?

A: A hay belly is typically easy to recognize in young and mature horses alike. A hay-bellied colt or filly displays a big belly while the rest of their body looks small. A mature horse will often have a midsection that hangs low, yet their ribs are visible, and they will lack defined muscling across their hindquarters.

These obvious signs are a good start to identifying hay belly, but you should also conduct a regular body condition score on your horse to check muscle mass and appropriate fat deposition. Keep in mind that it’s important to check all areas of your horse’s body, including his neck, withers, back, ribs, shoulder, and tailhead. A rib and belly check alone don’t provide all the answers.

Did you know obesity is a growing problem in horses? Learn how you can treat and prevent obesity in your horse with AQHA’s FREE Chubby Horses report.

Q: How did my horse develop a hay belly?

A: A horse develops a hay belly when they are fed too many low-value calories without adequate protein. His body still stores the calories as energy in cells, but he is unable to maintain muscle mass because protein is unavailable. This absence of protein causes muscle atrophy and an increase in stored energy, which means muscle mass is lost and gut size expands.

The biggest contributing factor is overfeeding Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) and underfeeding quality protein. NDF is the measurement of cell wall content in plants such as grass. As a plant matures, it builds stronger cell walls to hold itself upright. The stronger the cell wall, the harder it is for a horse to digest. Hay with high levels of NDF are often lower in quality proteins, which means a horse is missing out on important nutrients that help them develop and maintain muscle.

For more information on how you can treat and prevent a hay belly, continue reading Nutrena’s blog post.

If your horse looks like he needs to hold off on the apples and carrots, check out AQHA’s FREE Chubby Horses report. Learn about obesity in horses and what measures you can take to prevent health problems such as equine metabolic syndrome and Cushing’s disease. 

Nutrena Essay Contest

Do you have an adorable AQHA foal that you’d love to show off? Enter the Nutrena #AQHAFoals essay contest for a chance to win 100 pounds of feed! Submit your favorite foal photo and a 500 word or less explanation of why you love your American Quarter Horse baby. The contest runs May 16 through June 1, and entrants must be 18 or older and a U.S. resident. Our friends at Nutrena will pick four lucky winners in June. Winners will be contacted by email or phone.

Nutrena and AQHA

Nutrena is the official equine and pet food provider of AQHA, providing invaluable support to multiple AQHA events and programs, including the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show, Lucas Oil AQHA World Championship Show, Adequan Select World Show, the title sponsor of the Nutrena AQHA Level 1 Championship Show and more.