Some horses are known as good-doers and are especially prone to putting on weight and becoming overweight. Weight gain occurs when the calorie content in the horse’s diet exceeds what the horse requires for the workload they are in. Horses becoming overweight can cause many problems such as an increased risk of arthritis, and laminitis, as well as being prone to other diseases and poor performance.
How to tell if a horse is overweight
The best way to keep an eye on your horse’s weight is to weigh it regularly. However, most people haven’t got easy access to a weighbridge, so another good method of regularly keeping an eye on your horse’s weight is to combine a weigh tape with body condition scoring (BCS). BCS is a method used widely in research and consists of assessing common fat deposit areas and scoring them from 0-5 with an ideal score being 3.
The most important key is consistency, use it regularly, and get the same person to do it. By doing it regularly, it’s easy to tell when there’s a difference in fat deposits, rather than relying on visual changes alone. The same applies to using weigh tapes – although they’re not always accurate, they’re a great tool when used consistently (using the exact same weigh tape, and the same person using it), to notice any difference in weight before it becomes visible.
Top tips for an overweight horse
- Limited grazing - especially in the spring and summer months, a track system or grazing muzzle can be introduced to help with this.
- Cut out any unnecessary calories - remove any unnecessary chaff or mashes from your horses’ diet and all their daily needs can be provided to them by a low-calorie balancer.
- Exercising and more exercise - the most effective way to help your horse lose weight is to increase their workload. Often overweight horses lack fitness so be careful not to overwork your horse. Nice long hacks in walk can really help your horse lose weight.
- Weigh your feed - ensure your horse’s daily intake of feed does not exceed 1.5% of its current weight. This includes forage such as hay, haylage, and grass. This percentage can be decreased to 1.3% to help encourage weight loss. Always consult your veterinary surgeon before undertaking drastic diet changes.