Now that spring is here we have started bathing the young horses and broodmares that were allowed to grow their winter coats. Warmblooods frequently grow very heavy coats and it can take some time for them the shed out, in the meantime as the temps rise they are sweaty and matted. Bathing them really helps to shed the hair and they really appreciated the cool water. But every spring I am frequently surprised by one or two of the yearlings who are suddenly quite ribby under all that hair.
We really walk a fine line with these young warmbloods. They grow fast and they usually don't require the amount of grain that is recommended on the bags - in fact, they usually only need about 1/4 or less. A fat young warmblood is asking for growth problems, their legs and joints cannot handle the weight, so we try to keep them slim without making them skinny. My vet and I were recently talking about this problem and he was telling me that if they don't get the recommended abount of grain that it is very important to supplement them with at least a calcium and phosphorus supplement to ensure that their bones grow correctly. Many European breeders think that we give our horses too much food and that is why we have more joint problems with our young horses, but they raise their horses like livestock and the weaker or less athletic ones are sold off for food. They only keep the ones who grew up correctly with no help. We don't choose this option, so we must try to make each one the best that they can be. It is hard to ensure that the hay and grass nutrients will be consistent from one month to the next, so supplements and carefull grain selection are important.
We use a popular brand of grain that has a special formula for broodmares and young horses and add supplements because there is no way we could feed our babies the recommended amounts and not have fat, unhealthy horses. We have to monitor it closely as growth spurts can cause a healthy looking foal to suddenly look ribby, so we up the grain and/or hay, a few months later they may start to look a little chubby, so we cut it back. Usually by the time they are three or four years old we have a pretty good idea of whether they are a hard or easy keeper.
Spring is usually the time for growth spurts, so it is really not surprising to find some of the yearlings looking a little thin - it is just a surprise when a thick haircoat sheds out a plump looking weanling into a ribby yearling!