Obesity in ponies and horses - A growing concern?

Obesity is a growing concern and the leading health risk for ponies and horses.


What is obesity?

When calorie intake exceeds calories burned through movement and exercise.

Excess body fat can lead to further negative impacts on a pony or horse’s daily health.


Causes of obesity

  • Over-feeding – especially those who are retired or not ridden
  • Not knowing where the calories come from. The main source of calories in most equine diets is grass
  • Too little exercise
  • Improved care of grazing land
  • Insulin resistance – which can increase blood sugar levels
  • Over-rugging in the winter months, leading to unnatural weight maintenance rather than natural weight loss.


Typical signs of obesity

Every horse and breed are different in this respect.  By condition scoring we can best see where our own ponies and horses are carrying excess fat. Key areas to check are:

a) Crest - Harder and larger than normal with fatty deposits visible

b) Shoulders – Fatty deposits visible

c) Withers – Fatty deposits visible, may change the fit of a saddle

d) Ribcage – Unable to feel the ribs due to excess coverage

e) Quarters - A dip in the middle should not be visible

f) The head of the tail – Fatty deposits visible at the top of the tail



Linked health issues:

Laminitis – Obese horses are more prone to Laminitis

Difficulty with exercising and breathing

Muscle strain and joint problems due to excessive weight bearing

Decreased fertility or infertility

Digestive issues

Decreased immune function


How to combat excess weight gain

Feed a fibre-based diet, supported by a balancer (our Super Concentrated Feed Balancer range is perfect for this, being incredibly low in sugar and starch and molasses free) making sure that calorie intake is lower than the energy demand needed for daily exercise.

Feed 1 to 1.5% of their target bodyweight during weight loss (overseen by a vet). A daily maintenance level would be 2 to 2.5 % of bodyweight. 

Weight loss programmes should be gradual and you should never starve your pony/horse for prolonged periods of time as this can lead to further digestive issues.

Embrace winter weight loss, as it is easier to achieve at this time of year. Don’t wait until the spring to start your pony/horse’s weight loss programme. It has been proven that the majority of horses slowly gain weight year on year, so use the winter to allow natural weight loss.

Use a weigh tape to track weight change weekly.  Keep a record of your pony/horse’s weight to assess changes before they may be visible by eye.

Use a condition scoring system to help you assess where your horse genuinely sits.  When we spend time with them everyday it can be more difficult to judge.

If you are able to turn out, the use of a grazing muzzle can allow your pony/horse the freedom to move and burn calories without the fear of excess calorie intake from grazing.

If possible, make sure your pony /horse has adequate daily exercise. This could be turnout for those retired or out of work, or further exercise for those able to be worked to burn more calories.

Where possible try to increase exercise gradually to have a positive effect on all round health, alongside increasing calories burned. Two sessions a day where possible, can help to burn additional calories and is good for the mental well-being of a pony/horse stabled for weight loss.

Additional exercise does not have to be ridden, a brisk walk in hand can be useful, just no stopping to graze on the way!

Your weight loss programme should be overseen by a vet (as there could also be secondary issues disrupting your weight loss plan) and supported by your feed company who can offer the very best advice on high fibre, low calorie, low sugar and low starch options.


Life after weight loss

Keeping the weight off can be as difficult as the initial weight loss process.

As an owner you must be disciplined to maintain a healthy weight in the future.

Continued prevention is preferred than having to cure the problem again.

Try to develop a management routine that allows you to enjoy your pony/horse, safe in the knowledge that you are now providing them improved daily health. Make sure you have a realistic view of what your new healthy horse looks like.


Blue Chip Super Concentrated Feed Balancers are nutrient dense pelleted balancers, which are extremely cost effective while providing your good doer with all they need for their improved daily health.

The range covers specific needs such as Calming, Senior, Joint Care and Ulsa-Cool (for digestive sensitivities). They are all extremely low in sugar and starch, and are both whole cereal and molasses free, making them the perfect choice for those on a calorie controlled diet.

 For further information on supporting weight loss with a balanced diet, our advisors are always happy to help talk through the options. 

T: 0114 266 6200

E: info@bluechipfeed.com

Back to blog