HomeExpert AdviceArticleCounting calories

Counting calories

Posted in Management

We’re being encouraged to eat well and move more, and that is exactly what you need to do for your horse to promote weight loss

When weight loss is required, it is important to know where every calorie is coming from.

However, it’s difficult to count all the calories a horse consumes, because the ‘staple’ components of their diet, such as grass and hay, vary in calorie content.

Hidden calories

Although we want our horses to be out as much as possible, consider that grass will be contributing lots of calories, and so may have to be limited or even removed from the ration, to give you control over their calorie intake.

Even a short time at grass contributes a surprising amount of calories – for example, 1.5kg of grass will supply about 3MJ, which is just under five per cent of a 500kg resting horse’s total energy requirement.

This is a good bucketful of grass, and although the speed at which a horse eats will vary, it is likely to take minutes rather than hours to consume.

On the move

For many people, increasing their horse’s exercise can be difficult, due to lack of time or inability to ride.

However, riding isn’t the only way to exercise your horse – lungeing and long-reining are effective ways to burn calories, and horsewalkers are useful, too, if your yard has one. Another option is to ask someone to ride and lead your horse, or how about taking up driving?

Meet Blue Cross Polly

Polly is a seven-year-old, 9.2hh skewbald mare. At the start of her diet plan last November, she weighed 167.5kg and was body scored as a 5. Here’s how she lost it…

Weight-loss diet and regime

  • She was kept on wood chip, with no access to grazing
  • Walked in-hand daily
  • She was fed on hay that had been soaked for 12 hours to reduce its nutritional value and energy levels. Weighed dry, her hay was one-and-a-half per cent of her actual body weight and it was split into four feeds per day
  • She also received a feed balancer once a day to ensure she was getting the correct vitamins and minerals
  • Polly was weighed and her diet re-calculated fortnightly to take into account reductions in weight.

 Polly’s weight loss

  • December 2008: 161.5kg (body score 4.5)
  • January 2009: 156kg (body score 4)
  • February 2009: 149.5kg (body score 3.5).

Polly has now been turned out onto sparse grazing with a small herd of similar ponies, all at risk of laminitis, whose weights are regularly observed.

They still receive a daily balancer plus rationed, low-energy hay, and are weighed and condition scored fortnightly to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.

They’re confined to the woodchip area at night, and as the spring grass comes through, the ponies will be shut into the woodchip area during the day and will be turned out at night.

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