HomeExpert AdviceArticleYou’d better shape up

Keeping your horse’s waistline in check can be a tricky balance to get right, so take a look at these weight watching top tips to keep you on track as the spring grass comes through

Like all owners whose horses are good-doers, you’ve likely seen all there is to see when it comes to watching your horse’s weight. However, with sunshine and plenty of rain often comes an unwanted boost to his waistline. To keep you on track, here are a few fresh tips to get you started.

Weight taping

When used on a regular basis, a weight tape can be a great investment towards monitoring your horse’s weight. Ideally, taping every two weeks will help you keep track of any slight changes, as well as more significant ones over a longer period of time. They aren’t 100% accurate as a means of ascertaining your horse’s actual weight, but provided you use them in the same place and with the same tape every time, you’ll still be able to spot any weight gain or loss. A weighbridge is the only way to accurately assess your horse’s weight, but this still needs to be done regularly to be of any benefit.

The best way to use a weight tape is to place it at the base of your horse’s withers and pull it around his girth, just behind his elbows, to take your reading. It should be tight around him but not pressing into his skin.

TOP TIP Consider your horse’s shape and breed when using weight tapes, because they can affect how accurate your readings are.

Body condition scoring

This is another hugely effective way to keep track of your horse’s condition. Best done bi-monthly and at similar times of day each time, body condition scoring offers a less biased way of looking at your horse. Ideally, your horse should have a body condition score of 5 to 5.5. Some horses may look and feel well at 4.5 or 6, but if you’re unsure it’s always best to consult your vet. Here’s a guide to what each score means…

  1. Poor The horse will look emaciated with protruding bones and no fatty tissue present.
  2. Very thin There might be minimal fat coverage over the base of the horse’s spinous processes and his neck structure will be faintly discernible.
  3. Thin Slight fat coverage over his ribs and build up roughly halfway on the spinous processes. The horse’s tailhead will be prominent, but individual vertebrae not easily identified.
  4. Moderately thin A faint outline of his ribs and a slight ridge across his back will be easy to spot. His withers, shoulders and neck won’t be obviously thin.
  5. Moderate The horse’s back will be flat and his ribs not visible but easily felt. His withers will be rounded.
  6. Moderately fleshy The horse may have a slight crease down his back and fleshy, spongy fat covering his ribs. Fat deposits apparent along the sides of his withers, behind his shoulders and along his neck.
  7. Fleshy Individual ribs can still be felt, but with noticeable fat filling between them. Soft fat around his tailhead and obvious deposits along his withers, behind his shoulders and along his neck.
  8. Fat Ribs are hard to feel and his neck will feel noticeably thick. He’ll have fat deposits along his inner thighs and soft fat around his tailhead.
  9. Extremely fat An obvious crease down his back will be present and patchy areas of fat will appear.

It’s hard to spot changes when you see him every day, but with this guide to getting the process right, you can’t go too far wrong. Monitoring your horse carefully is key, and with our downloadable chat it’s easy to record, too. Here’s how you can score your horse…

  1. Feel along the top of your horse’s crest and down to where his withers meet his shoulders.
  2. Continue over both sides of his withers and along his back, feeling for his spinous processes or any fat along either side of his spine.
  3. Check his quarters and tailhead for projecting bones or fat deposits.
  4. Feel down your horse’s neck and over his shoulder for fatty deposits, commonly situated just behind his shoulder blade.
  5. Press firmly over his ribcage to feel for excess fat or protruding ribs.

TOP TIP Take photos of your standing square every week to help you keep track of his progress.

To help you keep track, download our handy weight tracker, here.

Rib scoring

Body condition scoring is a hugely important part of keeping on top of your good-doer’s waistline, but unless you’re doing it right this method will prove unhelpful. Properly assessing your horse’s rib coverage is a common hurdle, so here’s how you can do it right – the only equipment you’ll need is your fingertip. If your horse is…

  • too thin his ribcage will feel like running your fingers across your knuckles. There’s insufficient fat coverage over his ribs and he’s likely underweight

  • just right you’ll be able to feel his ribs without pressing down. It should feel similar to running your fingers across the back of your closed hand.

  • overweight you won’t be able to feel his ribs, or you’ll have to press down quite hard to find them. It might feel like the fleshy thumb region on your palm.

Case study

Eddie is a 16.2hh nine-year-old Irish Draught, who weighs a hefty 700kg. He could do with losing 50kg or so, but he regularly competes at Riding Club events, so needs energy for stamina from his feed.

Saracen Horse Feeds recommend that he…

  • is turned out overnight
  • comes in during the day
  • gets two, 4kg nets of steamed hay during the day
  • receives two feeds per day made up of 500g Shape-Up and 300g Hi-Fi Lite
Feeding for health

Finding the best way to reduce your horse’s calories while still ensuring he receives at least 1.5% of his bodyweight in forage can be really tough. A great place to start is by soaking his hay. This cuts the hay’s calorie content, without reducing his fibre intake. Soak the hay for 60 minutes in cold water or 30 minutes in hot water and take care to rinse off the sugary water once it’s been soaked. Research has shown that this results in a 40% reduction in the hay’s non-structural carbohydrates and a 7% drop in its digestible energy content.

The perfect feed to help keep your horse looking his best, Saracen’s Shape-Up is low in starch and sugar, but high in fibre. It’s designed to provide a balanced diet even at lower intake levels, supporting the health of good-doers who need their calories restricting. It’s also ideal for horses at a higher risk of metabolic issues or those in need of a specialist feed to maintain a healthy metabolism.

For more information, visit saracenhorsefeeds.com

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