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Why does this colt keep getting thin?

From: Nell

Dear Jessica, I bought three PMU foals just over a year ago. I don't know what their exact breeding is. They are just about a year and a half old now. They are all geldings. My problem is that two of them are good-looking and fat and sturdy-looking but the third one is skinny as a rail a lot of the time, but not all the time. It is so frustrating to me! I keep pushing the feed to him but just when I think Okay, now he is starting to fatten up for real, he gets to looking bony again. I have never had such young horses on my place or a thin horse. I thought that horses got thin like that when they are sick or very old, and I am worried about this colt. He can't be old but I guess he could be sick. We have a good de-worming program and all of the horses get their teeth checked every six months. My vet says he is a normal colt, but I have had people come to my door and ask if he was getting enough to eat, which is very embarrassing to me because I would never ever starve any horse! I trust my vet, but he doesn't like to explain things much and when he explains he usually gets very technical and forgets that I'm not a vet too. I understand that he doesn't think I should worry, but I don't understand why this is happening at all. Do you know of any reason that this colt just gets thin again every time he starts to fatten up? I've never had so much trouble fattening up any animal in all my life, except for my husband, LOL! He is tall and skinny like Abe Lincoln and my mother-in-law warned me when we got engaged that I wouldn't ever be able to put weight on him because he has a "hollow leg".


Hi Nell! As long as your skinny colt is behaving normally, seems cheerful, and (most importantly) your vet can't find anything wrong with him, I don't think you need to worry about him, especially since you have a good vet to advise you. You said that this is the first time you've had such young horses on your place - I think you're just dealing with two different types of young horse.

Some foals - especially ones from stocky, sturdy parents, and ones that are likely to become short or medium-sized, stocky, sturdy horses - can look well-fed all the way from babyhood to adulthood. Some grow so evenly and steadily that they always look balanced. But not all foals are like that. Foals that come from taller, more lightly-built stock, and foals that are likely to become taller, more slender adult horses, that - will typically grow unevenly (first one end, then the other) and in spurts. If your third youngster is one of these, it's very possible that he could (just as an example - this schedule is imaginary!) appear round and sleek and well-fed in April, then appear bony and underfed in May and June, then begin to "fatten up" and look round and sleek and well-fed in July and August. There really isn't much you can do to affect this - every young horse is going to grow according to its own pattern.

Here are two things that you can do to reassure yourself:

1. Continue to consult your vet at regular intervals, so that he can continue to assure you that ALL of your colts are normal.

2. Start measuring and recording this colt's height on a monthly or even a weekly basis, and always include a note about whether he is in a "round" phase or a "bony" phase. I strongly suspect that you'll discover a pattern! At those times when your shiny, rounded colt suddenly becomes "bony", you are very likely to find that there's been a measurable increase in his height.

Don't be embarrassed when people ask about the colt, and don't be angry with them - it's good to know that there are people out there who care enough to risk embarrassing THEMSELVES by asking you if your colt is okay. You can tell them that he IS getting enough to eat, that all of your horses are fed according to your vet's advice, and that this particular animal is simply a youngster that gets thin whenever he experiences a sudden growth spurt. Many human babies do the same thing, by the way - there's nothing strange about it. Growth usually isn't achieved by evenly-timed, perfectly predictable increments. Think of the way teenaged boys suddenly outgrow their shoes and clothing; this is very similar. Be patient, listen to your vet, and wait - eventually, your "problem" youngster will grow up and level out. If his genetic heritage is very different to that of the other two colts, he may always be thinner (and probably taller) than they are, even when all three of them are full-grown. Remember what your mother-in-law told you - and remember that just like your husband, this colt may grow up to be be long and lanky and perfectly healthy. ;-)


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