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Obesity is a growing welfare concern for our equine population as it has been associated with health concerns such as laminitis and insulin resistance (IR). Several surveys have indicated that up to 50% of the horse and pony population could be considered obese (Body Condition Score seven or greater on a nine point scale). 

What are some of the potential risk factors for obesity in equines?

Genetics

Ponies and horse breeds like Morgans, Arabians, Paso Finos and Draft horses are more likely to be obese and considered “easy keepers.”


Nutrition

Feeding up to 3 lb of concentrate per day has been shown to be associated with obesity.  

Turnout on lush pasture, even in short periods of time, can also be a risk factor for obesity.


Exercise

Decreased physical activity.  A study performed in Great Britain found that pleasure riding and non-riding horses and ponies had a higher incidence of obesity compared to those used for competition.


Season

Lack of winter-associated weight loss has been shown to be a risk factor for obesity versus maintaining weight throughout the season.


Managing Obese Horses and Ponies

  1. Use the Body Condition Score to recognize a horse or pony’s amount of fat coverage with individuals scoring at a seven or above considered obese;
    1. The Body Condition Index is designed to complement Body Condition Score and provides another method to assess body fat.  Use this tool to assess your horse’s Body Condition Index:  https://www.spillers-feeds.com/weight-management-tools
  1. Slowly introduce light to moderate exercise, if possible;
  1. Work with a nutritionist to determine the best way to reduce calorie intake:
    1. Decrease or completely eliminate all high calorie, high sugar/starch grains or concentrates.  Try opting for a low calorie, fiber-based feed such as SAFE ´N EASY.
    2. Restrict pasture intake by turning out onto a dry lot or using a grazing muzzle.  Researchers have shown that ponies can ingest nearly 5% of their body weight in dry matter per day (normal daily intake is around 2% of body weight in dry matter per day).
    3. Have your hay analyzed for nutrient content and feed a hay with <10-12% non-structural carbohydrates.  Soaking hay for 30-60 minutes before feeding may help lower NSC in hay but not significantly.  Avoid prolonged periods without hay (>4 hours) by using a slow feed haynet or feeding multiple hay meals throughout the day to mimic the horse’s natural foraging behavior and reduce unwanted behavior.
    4. Incorporate a ration balancer like GRO ´N WIN™, to provide vitamins, minerals and amino acids that may be missing in your horse’s forage component. 

Recommended Products For Obese Horses and Ponies

GRO 'N WIN

Benefit

  • Low in calories
  • Low NSC
  • Low feeding rate

Average Daily Feeding Rate (1,000 lb horse in light work)

1.75 lb GRO 'N WIN

Average Daily Forage (hay + pasture)

1.5-2% body weight (no less than 1% for severe restrictions)


SAFE 'N EASY PELLETED OR TEXTURIZED

Benefit

  • Low in calories
  • Low NSC
  • Fiber-based feed

Average Daily Feeding Rate (1,000 lb horse in light work)

5.5 lb SAFE ´N EASY PELLETED or TEXTURIZED

Average Daily Forage (hay + pasture)

1.5 -2% body weight (no less than 1% for severe restrictions)