Why is My Horse Lazy?

Laziness in Horses

Sometimes, just like us, our horses just seem to get into a lazy spell. Alternatively, you could have a horse that just never seems to have any pep in their step. They are often lethargic and just do not have the energy to do what we ask of them. As with anything related to horses, there could be multiple reasons for this behavior.

For a horse that is normally active and not lazy, then has a sudden drop in their enthusiasm for any activity, an underlying health condition may be the cause. It is important to remember with these types of horses that you should always speak with your veterinarian. If your horse’s behavior rapidly changes, this could indicate a serious illness or injury because it is usually associated with pain. Potential causes could be:

  • Low-grade colic
  • Lameness
  • Illness
  • PSSM (Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy)
  • Early signs of Cushing’s Disease
  • Stomach upset
  • Nutrient imbalances

Conversely, there are other horses that either seem to always be lazy or they are enthusiastic but often lose energy during any sustained activity. There can be many factors that are influencing this type of behavior. Diet may be likely.

Feeding Lazy Horses

Horses that just always seem to be lazy are often in a heavier body condition then what is recommended. It is estimated about 51% of our horses are overweight and are over the recommended body condition score of 5 (recommendation for most horse types). By carrying this extra weight, it makes it more difficult for them to perform the activities we ask of them because they have to expend more energy. Thus, they seem to be poor performers and act “lazy.” For these types of horses, it is well worth your time to review our Properly Feeding the Overweight Horse article. The goal should be to promote weight loss until the horse reaches an ideal body condition score. For these horses, it is recommended to:

  • Properly reduce the calories in their diet
  • Evaluate your forage, as this is the major source of calories in your horse’s diet.
    • Feed grass hays instead of legume hays (i.e., alfalfa), which have more calories.
    • Reduce amount fed, but not under 1% of their body weight per day.
  • Alter their feed and consider a lower calorie ration balancer, like Essential K® or Wholesome Blends™ Balancer.
  • Introduce a grazing muzzle to reduce pasture uptake.

Then, there is the horse that performs well, but often has a sudden drop in energy when in training or performing. This very much could be an indicator of the type of energy they are receiving from their diet. Generally, energy in the diet comes from sugar/starch (carbohydrate), fat, protein and fiber. Horses get most of their energy in their diets from carbohydrates and fats. How these horses use this energy directly impacts how well they can perform. For example:

  • Carbohydrates are considered a “fast burning” energy source. They are quickly taken up by the horse to fuel their cells. For horses in strenuous and quick activities like racing, diets higher in carbohydrates are appropriate to fuel their needs.
  • Fats are considered a “slow burning” energy source and are actually more energy dense (~2.5x) than carbohydrates. However, because of how they are metabolized and utilized by the horse, they provide a longer lasting source of energy.

Thus, for the performance horse that loses steam as they exercise or perform, diets higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates would be more appropriate. Feeds like Kalm ‘N EZ® or Kalm Ultra® would be just a few of the recommended feeds for these types of horses.

A final consideration for horses that seem to get lazy while exercising could be due to when you last fed them prior to work. After a meal, a horse’s insulin and sugar (glucose) levels in the blood spike around the 2-hour mark. If exercising during this time period, the horse will quickly utilize the glucose in their blood and suffer from what we often call a “sugar crash” (hypoglycemia).  This results in them losing the energy they need to keep up their activity. Thus, it is generally recommended to feed your horse any large concentrate (feed) meals at least 4 hours prior to exercise.

All in all, there are many factors that can contribute to a horse being considered lazy. Fortunately, a proper diet aimed at providing the right source of energy will go a long way in helping alleviate this behavior. If you have any questions or concerns with your horse’s diet, please feel free to contact us for a personalized feeding plan!

Article By: Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.
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