Maintaining a healthy weight in horses is extremely important, to prevent them from developing further health conditions.
When it comes to obesity in horses, the principal is the same as it is for humans. It’s important to make sure that the amount of feed you are giving your horse is relative to the amount of exercise he is getting.
Ideally the best way to treat horse obesity is to prevent it from happening in the first place, however this is often easier said than done, and some horses are more prone to obesity than others.
It’s therefore important to be informed on how to manage obesity, and keep it high on your list of priorities when it comes to caring for your horse.
Causes of Obesity
There are a number of reasons for obesity in horses. These range from the genetics of the horse, to the evolution of the forage from rather sparser and high in fibre, to the lush green grass widely available these days, as well as a lack of exercise.
Some horses that are ‘good doers’, and will maintain their weight and condition on a relatively low amount of feed, which would cause a different horse to lose weight. These horses are usually easy to keep, but it’s important to avoid over-feeding as this can lead to weight gain and the serious health conditions that come with obesity.
Consuming more calories than are spent through exercise is the basic cause of obesity in horses, and is usually as a result of too much of, or the wrong type of feed. Horses these days are often exercised a lot less than working horses of the past, and so their calorie expenditure is lower.
There are numerous health concerns relating to a horse becoming obese. Excess body fat requires more exertion to exercise, and also insulates the horse’s body, which can cause heat stress. It may also increase the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries, as well as exacerbating arthritis. All of these factors can result in your horse being unable to perform as well.
Obese horses may also form lipomas, which are fatty tumours that form in the abdominal cavity and increase the chances of strangulation colic.
Overweight horses can also become insulin resistant, and the increased insulin levels can lead to laminitis and founder.
It is important to assess the physical condition of your horse weekly, and record any changes. Using a weigh tape around the horse’s girth is one test that should be carried out, and although this may not always be entirely accurate, if the same tape is used each time then any difference will be apparent.
Additionally, you should check the horse’s crest. Cresty neck scoring is important, as the size of the animal’s crest is comparable to the distribution of abdominal fat in humans as an indicator of insulin resistance and other health conditions such as laminitis.
When measuring and scoring your horse it’s important to ensure that the same person is doing the scoring each time, using the same method, stood on the same flat surface, at the same time of day, to ensure a consistent comparison.
The Animal Health Trust has produced a guide to assessing the body condition of horses which you can find here.
The basic principal behind equine weight loss is the same as it is for humans. Energy spent must be greater than the amount consumed. So increasing the amount of exercise and decreasing the amount of calories consumed is the basis of any management plan.
It’s important to take care when implementing a weight loss plan for your horse that you also maintain proper nutrition. You should also increase the rate of exercise slowly so as to avoid causing any metabolic problems.
A safe and effective weight management plan should be tailored to each horse as there are a variety of factors to take into consideration. You should consult your veterinarian for advice specific to your horse.
We hope this has given you some insight into how to spot equine obesity, and the principals behind correcting the problem. Keep an eye on the Derby House Post for more horse care advice.