How to reduce sugar intake - PART 3

How to reduce sugar intake in your ponies/horse's diet

PART 3 of our "Understanding Sugar" Series

Why can't I get my pony to lose weight? I don't know what else I can do!

We hear your issues regularly, and can understand as horse owners ourselves. Managing good doers and those sensitive to sugar at this time of year is tricky. BUT, don't give up, don't feel bad for limiting grazing, or using a grazing muzzle. Equine obesity is on the rise and we need to ensure we manage our ponies and horses in a healthy manner for the long term benefits to their health.

We always advocate for a forage first diet, to help maintain healthy digestion. This area will always be the first place to look when aiming to reduce the sugar intake in your ponies or horse's diet, and by "LOOK" we mean even by the hour to limit further where possible.

Grazing - by FAR the largest contributor of sugar in your horse's diet BUT there's plenty we can do to help in this area, which is great news!

  • Grazing muzzle - Using a grazing muzzle can reduce the amount of grass your horse consumes by up to 80%! Do not use a grazing muzzle for more than 8-12 hours at a time. Fit carefully and check often, making sure they are still able to drink happily. Some seem to be magicians at getting them off, so don't give up and keep persevering! Grazing muzzles are especially helpful if strip grazing and track systems are unobtainable.
  • Strip grazing - An effective weight management tool, one which you have a good level of control over, while still allowing your horse time to move and socialise.
  • Track system - Great for increasing movement and burning some additional calories. Allows horses to socialise and maintains a healthy mind and body.
  • Restrict completely - For some, total restriction from grazing is necessary, however if you have access to an arena or bald field, turnout is still a possibility. Try enrichment activities for these areas such as various smaller haynets spread out to encourage movement.
  • Overnight - Turnout overnight helps support a calorie controlled diet, and keeps them out of the flies! Sugar levels in grass reduce overnight as the sugars are utilised for growth. Overnight turnout is often a better choice than a few hours during the day where it is proven that ponies and horses are likely to gorge themselves knowing they are restricted.

Additional Forage - when 

  • Choose low sugar options such as ryegrasses or timothy 
  • Soaking hay for 15 to 60 minutes before feeding can help reduce its sugar content by leaching out some of the water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC)
  • Many nutrients such as B vitamins and anti-oxidants are lost from hay during the drying phase of production, and further from soaking, as such you should ALWAYS feed a balancer to ensure a balanced diet

Keep a balanced diet - but a low sugar version

  • Choose a balancer which offers a low level of sugar in the daily grams fed, don't just rely on low % as you may be feeding more sugar than you realise, especially with feeds with a higher feeding rate such as fibre nuts or mixes.
  • Don't be tempted to include molasses treats, choose, carrots and apples in a limited amount, if needed at all. Treat your horse with sugar free options, such as scratches and fun exercises.
  • Feed a balancer from a treat ball to provide enrichment and mental stimulation, feeding from the floor is also a great stretching exercise, and places the jaw in the correct position for chewing and tooth health.

Exercise and calorie deficit

  • Exercise is a great way to burn calories, and it can be fun too! it doesn't have to mean trotting round in endless circles, or jumping if you don't like it. Exercise can take many forms, a brisk walk in hand, walking up and down hills, pole work, fun hacks with purpose, stretching, and loose schooling, alongside schooling, jumping and more. Keeping exercise varied can help your horse develop a healthy mind set towards work, and burn even more calories to boot!
  • A 500kg horse needs approximately 15,000 calories daily if they are not in work, 20,000 calories daily at light work, and 30,000 calories daily for those in harder work.
  • Feeding at a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than they utilise) of at least 3,500 calories per day can help them to lose weight.


  • It's very important to monitor weight loss weekly to ensure you are heading in the right direction with a weight loss plan.
  • Use a weigh tape to record weekly trends, this can be done all year round to ensure weight does not creep on unexpectedly.
  • Marry weigh tape results with body condition scoring to ensure all round improved health.
  • Use the winter months to help you target safe weight loss, when access to high calorie grazing is naturally far lower.

We are always happy to chat and help you decide which could be the best option for your pony/horse going forwards. As horse owners ourselves we understand how hard it can be to managed those who are good doers.

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