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Is Your Horse Overweight?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 28, 2017

Obesity is a major health concern for horses. “Horses carrying excess weight are at higher risk for laminitis and metabolic problems,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., longtime nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER). In addition, overweight horses have reduced exercise tolerance and more difficulty keeping cool in hot temperatures.

According to a recent survey in the U.S. and abroad, 20-50% of all horses are obese*. Most operations surveyed in Maryland managed at least one overweight horse or pony, with up to 40% of the horses and ponies reported to be obese. Not only are there many horses carrying excess weight, but it turns out that most horse owners are unable to consistently identify equine obesity**.

KER developed a free downloadable chart to guide owners in the assessment of equine body condition. Keep in mind that accurate body condition scoring is subjective, and it takes practice.

How to Reduce Weight

Weight reduction in horses can usually be achieved by limiting calories and increasing exercise. A horse should never be starved or fasted. Forage intake should not be less than 1% of body weight (10 lb of forage for a 1000-lb or 450-kg horse). This constitutes an extremely restrictive intake. It is more reasonable to offer 1.5-2% of body weight in forage, plus a ration balancer, such as Micro-Max, in lieu of high-calorie concentrate products, or to top off concentrates fed below recommended levels. In Australia, look for Gold Pellet.

“Weighing horses on a regular basis, such as once or twice a month, will help owners track weight changes,” says Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition consultant with KER. “Either a weight tape or scale, if available, is a good tool for measuring trends. Record weights and dates of measurement in a notebook or spreadsheet to easily observe changes.”

Exercise frequency can be increased as well. For example, if a horse is currently exercised two or three times per week for 20 minutes, frequency can be increased to three or four times per week for 30 minutes. Be sure to make increases in intensity slowly so the horse’s body has time to adapt.

Further, a horse does not have to work to a dripping sweat to realize the benefits of exercise. As long as physical activity is enough to raise the heart rate to approximately 60% of maximum (roughly 140 beats per minute for an average adult horse), improvements in glucose metabolism, muscle tone, and fitness can be ascertained.

If weight is a concern for your horse, contact a KER nutrition advisor today.

*Jaqueth, A.L., M.E. Iwaniuk, and A.O. Burk. 2017. Prevalence and management of obese ponies and horses in Maryland. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 52:76.

**Morrison, P., P. Harris, C. Maltin, D. Grove-White, C. Argo, and C. Barfoot. 2015. Perceptions of obesity in a UK leisure-based population of horse owners. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 57(Suppl. 1):O6.