How Heavy!?

Nurse Blog - Is your horse over weight?

Do you know how heavy your horse is? Are they holding a few extra pounds?

At the moment we are seeing increasing numbers of horses that have obesity which has lead me to look into ways we can further help you as owners to tackle the problem and it has made interesting reading.

What is obesity: quite simply it is an excess accumulation of adipose tissue that produces substances called adipokines. These adipokines increase inflammation and insulin suppression and reduce immunity in the body.

Those horses that are above ideal weight will have a reduced quality of life, breathlessness and breathing problems, exercise and heat intolerance and sore, painful joints. The potential risks of laminitis, heart and urinary problems and cancer increase with obesity and the animal will have an overall reduced life expectancy.

Lisa Newman

Get an accurate weight - its this easy to get us set up!

It only takes 60 seconds to assemble our weigh bridge. Fully mobile / portable … ideal to set up on any yard. Why not call the practice to get an accurate weight for your horse. It’s free!

BCS chart

Our first step is to recognise the problem and accurately grade your horse’s body condition score (see chart).

Then we need an accurate, honest and detailed food diary. A comprehensive list of everything your horse gets to eat including the time spent out at grass and, if medication is needed how this may be given.

Exercise needs to be taken into consideration to help burn the excess stores but this needs to be carefully done alongside veterinary advice especially when faced with any other health concerns.

It is the amount and what is being fed that has the greatest impact on your horse’s health.

This then led me to think about the ways we offer food to our horses. Slow feeders and interactive toys are widely used with small animals so I wondered if the same could be applied to horses.

I came across a few companies that are UK based and I have listed the sites below for you to look at.

Haygain – www.haygain.co.uk

Haylo feeder – www.haylohorsefeeder.com

Eazigrazer – www.eazigrazer.co.uk

Haygrazer (haynet style options) – www.haygrazer.co.uk

Large hay ball types of feeders are also available on various sites and can provide additional stimulus for those bored yet playful individuals.

The slow feeding concept increases activity and satisfaction by allowing your horse to eat little and often and from a low head position.  They improve psychological wellbeing, promote correct jaw alignment and reduce over forage consumption.

weigh tape

They can be used inside or out but if using outside with other horses you will need to provide larger versions and more of them to prevent hierarchal herd disagreements from occurring.

The slow feeders can be filled with your chosen high fibre source such as late cut last years meadow hay or chopped straw then soaked, drained and fed from the same device. For those not on such calorie restrictions alfalfa, hay or haylage can be used.

Studies have been performed on the slow feeding Haylo system and have been shown to extend forage consumption time to 50-65 minutes as opposed to 22 minutes for the double haynet system. Which is great for those on reduced rations!

It’s worth bearing in mind to keep a check on your horses teeth and gums as a matter of routine when using any feeding device or toy and choosing the right system for you and your horse.

grazing muzzle

Feeding requirements for those with obesity:

  • Low starch and low sugar no more than 10%
  • Restrict grass intake
  • Use a grazing muzzle, strip grazing, co-grazing with sheep, using bare paddock or un-grassed area with supplemented forage.
  • Re-seed land with a mix of less-productive grass species such as meadow fescue, cocksfoot and timothy.
  • Limit time out at grass.
  • Soaked late cut meadow hay or chopped straw
  • Feed total dry weight forage as 1.5-2% bodyweight per day – get weigh bridge out to help calculate then weigh all forage and feed accurately
  • Ensure the vital vitamin and mineral requirements are met in the form of a supplement or a specific light feed balancer.
  • Gut micro flora – pre and probiotics encourage a stable glycaemic index and improved nutrient uptake.
  • No root vegetables and no treats, they are high in sugar quick to consume but need lots of time and effort to expend!