I have recently acquired a starved horse. She would have a body score of approx 1.5 / 5. She is 18 yo, 15 1 hh, a thoroughbred and this state seems to have been of more recent times, as in the past she was well-nourished. She has (ironically) been wormed regularly and has been vaccinated. Her coat is surprisingly glossy, although it looks shabby in this picture, and it's spring here so her winter coat is shedding.

She has no other health issues. No parasites, infections, feet and teeth are okay.
She was on a diet of one biscuit of low quality hay and a small hard feed per day.

Warning be careful not to hover over the image unintentionally, as the picture is graphic.

The following photo has been taken after a long float trip, she was very sweaty and her fur is stiff, making her appearance worse. Please only look at it if you can cope with this, she is very underweight.

Photography of horse

here is a photo of her water buckets. There was no fresh water available to her.

Photography of water buckets

How can I safely feed her to a state of good health and healthy body weight?

1 Answer 1


Update and routine at 4 months:

Cleo has 2 litres of copra, and 1.2 litres of steam extruded lupins, with 12 litres of water per day.
Mixed with this she has:

  • pre and pro-biotics (for several months) to recreate a healthy gut flora
  • whole linseeds to balance the omega acids to assist in pain relief
  • lecithin to soothe and repair any ulceration caused by being starved
  • turmeric every second day to assist with inflammation and other incidental uses of this
  • a hoof rescue mix of vitamins and minerals customised for Australian horses and the hay she is having to balance ratios of Copper, Zinc and Iron and add any missing trace elements, including Selenium. It also contains salt.
  • If it's hot I add more salt to her diet.

She has adlib meadow hay.

If I was to recommence her feeding regime, I would have started her on the low starch and zero grain diet earlier, as this is better for her health over the long run. The feed I started her on was similar to what she was being given in her previous home (when she was being fed at all) and it was better to make changes to her diet gradually to allow her system to adapt.

Her coat is glossier from the balanced vitamins and minerals and she is gradually building up muscle and has good stores of fat. Her disposition is improving as her pain issues from being starved are being addressed and relieved. enter image description here

I have owned and nourished two other underweight horses, but they were not as thin as Cleo. The following routine was created in consultation with a horse rescue specialist. If Cleo's body score was lower, it may not be suitable to launch into the following routine and I am monitoring her health as we go.

As Cleo has no other complicated health issues, and she is not at risk of dying quickly, she can be given a good feeding routine. She is getting similar hard feeds to what she was in her previous home, however the quantities are much larger and more frequent feeds.


For feeding I am using a scoop of approx 2 L.

Cleo has started on a diet of two hard feeds morning and late afternoon consisting of:

2 scoops cool pellet mix 2 scoops of non heating stud mix (grain) 3 scoops of lucerne chaff
1/2 cup sunflower oil

I will give her one extra hard feed lunch snack in the middle of the day of:

1/2 scoop cool pellet mix
1/2 scoop of non heating stud mix (grain)
1 scoop of lucerne chaff

OR some other snack.

I am feeding her a grass hay, three time per day. I am using grass hay to reduce the likelihood of colic as she is unable to self moderate and will gorge, she is so hungry.

As she improves I will return to lucerne hay.

nb I would reduce the grain in some of the feeds in the first 4 days, depending on how she was coping.


I have built a small feeding yard (shown in the pink boundary) to keep her from my other two mares. This way she can eat without stress and it will alleviate and reduce pecking order issues within the 3 mares. It's also a handy place to wash them.

enter image description here

Cleo's feed is prepared first and she comes into the feed yard. I then make up a hard feed for one of the other horses and give some hay to the third one at the same time. They are patient.

While Cleo is eating I give her some snacks of cut apple and carrot and talk to her in a soft voice, gently patting her and praising her and using her name and some key phrases I use with my horses. I cut up the apple and carrot, so that the treat sizes are smaller and it goes a longer way, as I don't want to be feeding her too many apples.

Also while she is eating I put out some grass hay, so when she finishes I let her out and she makes her way to the hay.

enter image description here

During the day the horses are given 3-5 biscuits of hay 3 times per day to share, after morning and night hard feeds and for lunch.

Her water is checked and refreshed or emptied, cleaned and refilled 3-4 times a day.

Note it's important to receive expert guidance when caring for such neglected animals, as there are risks associated with feeding starved animals. In this instance the animal was being fed regularly, but not enough. So we are continuing with the same type of feed, but increasing the amount to ones sustainable for healthy life. Her current health is sufficient to take to a regular feeding regime.

I will add a picture when she is a healthy weight.


Day 3:
After a bath. This shows how quickly a horse can improve with care. Now she is having enough calories, she will be retaining more fluid, as the body loses fluid when starving, as the sugar in the cells, helps to retain the fluid. So when people first diet, they lose a couple of kilos that is fluid not fat and put it on when the caloric intake resumes to a level that is for a health body weight.

When bathing her I used a soft, small curry comb on her winter coat very gently as I was rinsing off her shampoo. I also found a piece of wire matted in her tail which I cut out. She needs a conditioner on her mane and tail. I will use those on the next bath. We will wait a couple of days for the next bath. She enjoyed it on the hot day.

You can also see she has energy and is lively after her bath, a good sign.

enter image description here

She has settled in with the other horses in her new home and these are all things to be considered with her feeding to ensure she is on the correct diet.

enter image description here

Day 4:
Thriving on her new diet. Being well hydrated also makes a difference to her appearance. Although she is still thin, she's looking healthier and relaxing. You can see her winter coat is shedding.

enter image description here

Day 5:
She is past the early days of reacting to her new diet, so I am now feeding her lucerne hay instead of grass hay. The patch on her back is where we've scraped the winter coat off, as that part was coming off easily. So it looks odd.

I've reduced the chaff in her hard feeds, as she's not finishing them. Normally I wouldn't reduce the chaff, but she goes off to eat hay as soon as she is done.

Day 9:


Cleo has two hard feeds morning and late afternoon consisting of:

2 scoops cool pellet mix 2 scoops of non heating stud mix (grain) 3 scoops of lucerne chaff
1/2 cup sunflower oil

Lucerne hay is put out after every hard feed. The three horses are fed approximately one bale of hay per day, as there is little pick in the paddock and there is another horse that needs some weight gain also. I manage the third horse that is in good condition, by giving her a feed of chaff only, so she doesn't feel like she's missing out when the others are being fed.


She now eats in the same paddock as the other horses, I supervise them until she is finished, to prevent another horse stealing her food.

Grooming her while she eats. She is managing two full hard feeds per day.

enter image description here

Day 11:

She's now having 3 scoops pellets with her meal as she is hungry and managing it well.

She's been rolling in the mud here.

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2.5 weeks:

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Day 23:

enter image description here

4 weeks:

At 4 weeks today at a round bale of meadow and lucerne hay. They will be getting oaten hay adlib from next week with a hay net to slow down feeding and prevent gorging. I am gradually cutting back her hard feeds and will retain the adlib hay. The hard feeds will be balanced with her condition as she goes. She looks like a new horse :)

enter image description here

Summary to 2.5 months:

First month:
She was on the original diet for a month to get her weight up. Two big hard feeds, and lucerne hay after.

Second month:
Then gradually dropped out the stud mix. Changed to linseeds because of the omega 6 and 3 balance.
Went to one feed. Added the vit and mins and salt (this did not need to wait). Gave adlib hay - a large oaten or meadow hay/lucerne round bale.

She also started a gentle exercise regime, involving stretches and walking over low poles in a way that forces her to think about her foot placement and recover her muscles and muscle memory.

After second month: She got her vaccination booster.
Reduced stopped the pellets over couple of weeks. Increased the lucerne chaff when I dropped the pellets. Adlib meadow hay. She gets 4 scoops of lucerne chaff with vits and mins, salt and linseeds. Will reduce the lucerne chaff on the days she get biscuits of lucerne hay.

She still needs to gain muscle, but that will take time.

She now enjoys life in a paddock on her own, she is surrounded by horses and chats over the fence, but with her food aggression, she is more relaxed on her own, as she isn't needing to defend her feed. Although there was plenty to go around, she couldn't relax completely with other horses. Hopefully the scars from being starved with heal with time and she will be able to share a paddock again and not stress over food.

Throughout this time I've sought the advice of professionals and modified her routine accordingly.

At Two months:
enter image description here

At Two half months:
enter image description here

10 months later (and after a serious injury):

enter image description here enter image description here

12 months later.

Enjoying beet pulp, copra, lucerne chaff, linseeds, minerals to suit local soil, salt and hay. Happy, healthy, shiney...

enter image description here

  • 1
    Is this diet based on a veterinarian or nutritionist's recommendation? Please be aware that feeding a starved horse large amounts of concentrates may lead to refeeding syndrome, with potentially fatal electrolyte disturbances and damage to the heart and kidneys. I don't doubt that you mean well, but I just wanted to make sure you are following sound medical advice in rehabilitation of your horse.
    – Harry V.
    Oct 8, 2016 at 1:01
  • 1
    @HarryV. have a look at the edit and watch this space. I will update it over the coming weeks.
    – user6796
    Oct 9, 2016 at 4:30

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