Equines come in many shapes and sizes, but regardless of appearance, if a horse is carrying more weight than optimum, he or she is at risk for a number of serious health problems. In general, any equine with a body condition score of 6 or 7 on the Henneke body condition scoring scale (1-9) may be described as overweight, while those scoring 8 or 9 are considered obese (excessively fat).

With modern management practices, it is quite common for horses to gain unwanted pounds as many horses graze pasture forage plants that have been selected with the goal of improving weight gain in cattle and other food animals. Unlimited access to rich pasture, combined with the fact that many horses get little or no regular exercise, could lead to a pattern of steady weight gain

What can be done to prevent equine obesity?

The simple answer is to monitor your horse's body weight and condition on a regular basis, decreasing caloric intake and increasing exercise before the horse becomes severely overweight. This basic answer, while essentially correct, leaves out the fact that horses have different metabolic patterns varying by breed, age, and other factors. Easy keepers seem to “get fat on the smell of an oily rag,” while hard keepers might always look too thin, even though they are offered enormous amounts of feed. Owners of chunky, cresty horses need to pay extremely close attention to avoid allowing their horses to become too heavy. Learn the condition scoring system and score each horse once a month.

What can be done to overcome equine obesity?

As stated above, the simple answer is to decrease energy intake and increase energy expenditure. If the horse is eating grain, consider reducing the amount or even cutting out grain entirely, possibly switching to a low-calorie vitamin-mineral supplement pellet if you're concerned about providing complete nutrition. You can also switch from legume hay to grass hay, and move away from free-choice hay consumption by offering a daily hay ration equal to 1-2% of the horse's target body weight. Pasture time can be limited by use of a grazing muzzle, a drylot, or some hours in a stall or indoor arena. Make any changes to amount or type of forage and feed very gradually over a period of several weeks.

At the same time that feed is being decreased, a gradual increase of exercise should be instituted as the horse can tolerate it. Remember to start very slowly and build up the frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise as the weeks and months go by. For animals with chronic laminitis, those that are out of athletic condition, and horses with arthritis or other soundness issues, adding exercise may be challenging or impossible, another reason that avoiding obesity is a far better option than slimming down a chubby charger. To avoid causing more harm than good, enlist the help of your veterinarian to work out the best method for safe, steady weight loss.

Which solution is right for your horse?

Nano-E Product Image

Micro-Max™ Ration fortifier. Micro-Max is a low-intake concentrated source of vitamins and minerals for mature horses. Micro-Max is ideal for horses that maintain body weight on diets of forage and small amounts of concentrate. The use of Micro-Max ensures that all vitamin and mineral requirements of mature horses and ponies are satisfied. Because of its low feeding rate, Micro-Max can be fed by itself or mixed with a concentrate.

EO-3 Product Image

EO-3™ Omega-3 supplement. EO-3 is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, compounds found to optimize the well-being of all horses, regardless of age or use. Specifically DHA and EPA supplementation has been shown to mediate inflammation as well as improve insulin sensitivity. Choose EO-3 to promote a more natural balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the body and the benefits this balance may confer on systemic inflammatory response, immune function and insulin sensitivity. Recommended for horses with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, and any horse that is insulin resistant.

EquiShure Product Image

EquiShure® Time-released hindgut buffer. Developed to combat hindgut acidosis, this innovative, one-of-a-kind delivery system allows for buffering of the hindgut, the site of fermentation in the horse. Choose EquiShure to reduce the risk of hindgut acidosis escalating to laminitis in horses receiving significant intakes of starch-laden grains as well as those grazing high-fructan pastures, including those at risk for or with a history of laminitis.

Learn More