Equine Obesity…a growing problem

Equine obesity effects 50% of pleasure horses, ponies and donkeys. There are many health risks associated with excess weight, one of the most devastating consequences been laminitis. However, prevention is better than the cure!

But why is equine obesity such a common and growing problem?

Horses and ponies are ‘yo-yo dieters’ I’m sure many of you have heard this phrase in a negative way! In terms of horses this isn’t a bad thing! Horses are ‘yo-yo dieters’ as their body weight naturally goes up and down.

During the summer months increased day lengths increase horse’s appetite leading to increased weight gain. This is known as a ‘positive energy balance’

Likewise, during winter months the day length decreases, appetite decreases causing weight loss. This is known as ‘negative energy balance’.

In a nutshell, it’s perfectly natural and healthy for a horse to come out of winter looking ‘lean’, the spring grass will soon change that!

The problem with domestication is we tend to promote the spring/summer weight gain and totally prevent the natural winter weight loss. It can take as few as 2-3 years for obesity and laminitis to develop.

The loss of yo-yo dieting is due to the following:

1. Historically horses had to work hard for their living. E.g. Pit ponies and draught horses. In more recent year’s horse’s workloads are over estimated and they are overfed. Forage is often much better quality than what would be found naturally. Horses are designed to survive on low quality forage with seasonable availability.

2. Provision of worm and louse control. In a natural state no such ‘Healthcare’ exists. Of course, these are vital for the welfare of our horses, but it should be kept in mind they add to the positive energy balance of your horse.

3. Over rugging. Naturally horses use excess fat to keep themselves warm (thermoregulation). The majority of horses are now rugged up, so this process no longer takes place.

4. Lack of movement. In the wild horses would constantly be on the move looking for forage, now our horses are living lives of luxury with breakfast in bed!

Weight loss in horses

Monitoring

In order to manage obesity, we need to be honest with ourselves on whether our horses are carrying excess weight or not. It’s important to monitor your horses weight this can be done in a couple of ways.

1. Weighbridge. Lots of feed companies now do free weigh days, they will bring their weighbridge to your yard and give you an exact weight of your horse.

2. Weigh tape (accurate to 50kg) This is a very cheap, quick and easy way to monitor your horses weight. They can be purchased from tack shops or online.

Management

1. Exercise! Exercise is vital for promoting weight loss. As a guide at least 30minutes trotting and cantering every other day (excluding warm up and cool down) is suggested.

2. Don’t over rug (especially native breeds). This will allow thermoregulation to take place naturally.

3. Use multivitamin supplements along with low sugar chaff rather than hard feeds/cereals/balancers.

4. Check the ingredients/sugar content of your feeds – Feed companies don’t have the same regulations as we do in human foods, therefore they can advertise to be ‘healthy’ when in fact they aren’t! The cheaper options aren’t always the best, make sure you check the starch content!

5. Use double nets or small holed nets to slow down those fast eaters.

6. Buy hay that’s older, the nutritional content will be lower, therefore less fattening.

7. Consider a grazing muzzle if you have lush pasture.

As ever if you have any questions regarding your horses weight then please don’t hesitate to contact us on 07747 771182.