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Weight Loss in Horses: Add Exercise to the EquationBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 10, 2016

The perils of excess body weight continue to be important areas of equine research. Why, you ask? Up to one-half of domesticated horses are considered overweight or obese, putting them at risk for equine metabolic syndrome and life-threatening bouts of laminitis.

Several factors contribute to overconditioning. “The main reasons include improved pasture quality, the overuse of calorie-dense feeds, and overstocking that restricts the amount of unstructured exercise a horse or pony has access to,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Recognizing the need for novel ways to foster exercise and weight loss, a group of Australian researchers* suggested using a dynamic feeding system that would encourage prolonged, low-intensity exercise in an unsupervised manner. This system requires that the horses walk in order to access a forage ration.

The dynamic feeding system, described and illustrated in a full-length article*, resulted in:

  • A nearly fourfold increase in distance traveled each day by participating ponies compared to those fed using a traditional stationary feeder;
  • A significant reduction in body condition score from 6.53 to 5.38;
  • Significantly improved cresty neck scores and body fat; but
  • No improvement in insulin sensitivity as determined by the combined glucose-insulin test.

The study authors concluded, “…a dynamic feeding system can be used to induce sustained, low-intensity exercise that promotes weight loss.”

Crandell added, “Although a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity was not appreciated in all ponies, there was significant improvement in the individuals that used the novel feeder as it was intended.”

In addition to exercise, ensure the diet provides an appropriate amount of energy to maintain an ideal body condition score and avoid the development of insulin dysregulation, equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, and other perils of excess body weight. For more information, contact a KER nutritionist today.

*de Laat, M.A., B.A. Hampson, M.N. Sillence, et al. Sustained, low-intensity exercise achieved by a dynamic feeding system decreases body fat in ponies. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. In press.