Hard Keeper? 3 Things to Check

Spring is often the time when we notice whether our horses are struggling with their weight. They start shedding their fuzzy winter coats and suddenly their body condition is painfully obvious. While some horses are just harder keepers than others, a sudden change or a chronic problem may indicate an underlying health issue.

Basic care such as equine dentistry and deworming are important pieces of your horse’s overall care, but are sometimes overlooked when weight issues crop up. Many owners assume their horse is just a hard keeper or that the weight issues have to do with age, but neither is necessarily the case. If you start seeing more ribs than you’d like this spring, here are three important health conditions to check.


It’s important to deworm your horse regularly, but even if you do, don’t overlook the possibility that your horse may have parasites. Many people respond by just feeding extra, but if your horse is struggling to gain or maintain weight, the answer may lie not in what goes in, but in what comes out.

Doing a fecal test is an easy way to make sure your deworming regimen is working. You’ll need a fresh fecal sample from your horse, which you can deliver to your vet for testing. The eggs of common equine parasites are easily identifiable under a microscope, and your vet can help you come up with a treatment plan if an infestation is found.

Dental Issues

Equine dentistry is another crucial part of preventative care for your horse. Horses’ teeth continuously erupt over their lifespan, and as they eat, are ground down. Over time they can develop sharp points that can nick their tongues and cheeks, causing sores and creating improper chewing habits that lead to poorly masticated and digested food.

In short, horses with dental issues may not be getting all the nutrients out of the food that they consume. To prevent this, the industry standard is for a vet to float them once a year, smoothing out points before they get too bad and maintaining an even chewing surface.

If you haven’t had your horse’s teeth floated in a while, it could explain any difficulty gaining or maintaining weight. Even if you have, a dental exam is still a good idea, as a broken tooth could be causing issues.

Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are fairly common in horses, due to how we work and feed them. Horses in high-stress careers such as racing tend to be fed large quantities of grain, which makes ulcers more likely. Ulcers mean more than just an irritable horse. They can also prevent nutrients from being digested properly, making it difficult for the horse to maintain or gain weight.

If your horse is a hard keeper, gastric ulcers could be the culprit. Talk to your vet about diagnosis and treatment options, such as scoping and ulcer medication. If your horse is prone to ulcers, he may need to stay on a maintenance dose of the medication even once they’ve cleared up.

Feeding a Hard Keeper

If your deworming regimen, regular equine dentistry, and your horse’s gastrointestinal health all check out, it may simply be that your horse’s work levels require more nutrients than what he’s getting. If you feed pasture or hay, it might be worth having it tested. Another option is to switch to pelleted feed, which has a guaranteed nutritional content. For more information about our feed or to find out which feed would be best for your hard keeper, contact Sacate Pellet Mills at 602-237-3809.