Overweight in horses is something that occurs regularly. Research shows that even 55% of the recreational horses studied in the Netherlands are overweight. Often owners do not see to what extent their horse is overweight, or think that it can do no harm. However, being overweight does pose health risks.
Causes of obesity
There are several reasons why your horse can become overweight. Some breeds, especially the austere ones, are often more sensitive to this. It generally has to do with the horse getting too much energy. If a horse eats more concentrate or roughage than his body needs, this will lead to weight gain. Not only the amount but also the composition and quality of the feed can cause your horse to consume too much energy. For example, one type of hay can contain much more energy than another type of hay, this has to do with the pasture management of the piece of land from which the hay comes. But there is also a lot of difference in the amount of energy per kg in concentrates. The development of overweight can also be related to the movement that the horse gets. If he is normally ridden or trained every day and comes to a sudden stop, but his ration is not adjusted, he will also consume more energy than he uses.
Does your horse have a good ration that meets the horse’s energy needs, but does he still gain weight? Then it can also be a metabolic disorder, such as insulin resistance. This can be caused by, for example, Cushing’s disease or ovarian tumors (tumour on the ovary).
Consequences of being overweight
An overweight horse is more at risk of various health problems such as laminitis, insulin resistance and reduced fertility. Laminitis is a very painful condition in which inflammation occurs between the hoof wall and the coffin bone. In the worst case, the coffin bone tilts and comes out through the sole of the hoof. Usually the horse can no longer heal and has to be put to sleep. Above we mentioned insulin resistance as a result of another condition, but you often see that it is a result of being overweight. In case of insulin resistance, the horse has too high an insulin level in the blood for too long, which is not good for many organs. The horse is therefore more sensitive to laminitis and EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome). In addition to these disorders, obesity also overloads the muscles and joints, which can lead to faster wear and tear.
It is important to keep a close eye on the condition of your horse. You can do this by regularly doing a Body Condition Score (BCS) with your horse. Click here for the criteria. It gives you an indication whether your horse is at a healthy weight at that moment. Keep in mind the differences in race, build and age. There is very overweight (obesity) when you can no longer see and feel the ribs. There is a lot of fat on the buttocks, which creates a gully and the spine is deeper (apple butt). In addition, a lot of fat can be seen and felt on the neck and fat folds may be visible. The shoulder blades are not visible and difficult to feel.
Weight loss tips
When your horse is overweight, it is important that he regains a healthy weight. First look critically at the ration he gets. How much concentrate and roughage does he get? How much energy is in this exactly? How much energy does he need to sustain himself? If you want to feed less, don’t skimp on roughage. Roughage is very important for the overall health of the horse and the gastrointestinal tract. You could, for example, look at roughage with less sugars/energy. To determine the values you can have your roughage tested, this cannot be seen with the naked eye. Limit the grass intake if necessary, because it also contains relatively more sugars. Let him graze for less time or set off a piece of the meadow so that he does not have unrestricted access to fresh grass.
In addition to the ration, you can also make changes to the training schedule. By moving, the horse consumes energy, which will make weight loss faster. Endurance training (i.e. training longer but less intensive) works better for weight loss than strength training.
Make sure that your horse does not lose weight too quickly, this can lead to hyperlipaemia (or dietary disease). If a horse receives too little energy through its diet, it will use its fat reserves. In itself useful if you want to let the horse lose weight,but if this happens too much/too quickly, this can disrupt the fat metabolism. Fat-like substances can then enter the blood, causing the horse to stop eating and drinking. So make sure your diet is not too strict.