Obesity is a global problem, with rates on the rise, not only in humans but in domestic animals, too. While we don’t exactly know how many of the UK’s horses are obese, studies have reported between 31–54%. For ponies, the news is even worse, with one study suggesting 72% as obese. This is significant because equine obesity is linked to other health problems, including laminitis, and is therefore a welfare issue.
So what’s behind the increase? In a nutshell, horses are eating too much and not exercising enough. The pastures they’re grazing are far more energy-dense and bountiful than those that they’ve evolved to eat, and they don’t have to walk very far to find food – in fact, most of the time it’s put in a net or bucket right under their nose.
Helping your horse lose weight takes dedication, but you’ll see great improvements in his overall wellbeing and energy levels. In terms of his diet, there are three areas you’ll need to focus on – grass, forage and his bucket feed.
Three factors to consider
When planning a weight loss diet for your horse, there’s more to think about than just his bucket feed. In practice, many overweight horses are fed little or no hard feed and seem to live on fresh air. This usually means they have access to too much grass, even if it doesn’t appear readily available.
Pasture and forage typically supply more energy (calories) than a horse at rest or in light work requires. For example, spring grass can contain a similar amount of energy to a conditioning feed. Grass and forage intake therefore need to be managed to achieve a healthy weight, especially in horses who are naturally good-doers.
Make a reduced forage ration last as long as possible by dividing it into smaller meals throughout the day and with small-holed haynets to limit the rate of eating.
Boost your horse’s weight loss with our three simple steps in July Horse&Rider, on sale 30 May.