If you have to ask, your horse is probably fat.
Overweight is the gentler way to say a large percentage of horses are fat if not frankly obese. In about 1/3 of these horses there is underlying metabolic syndrome which causes an exaggerated appetite but if they were being fed the appropriate amount of food they wouldn’t be overweight. Same goes for the ones that do not have metabolic syndrome. Calories out versus calories in is the bottom line.
The first step toward combating this problem is to be able to recognize it. Familiarize yourself with the Henneke body condition scoring system https://www.habitatforhorses.org/the-henneke-body-condition-scoring-system/ . It’s also helpful to look at the front and back leg musculature to see if it seems proportional to the size of the body. The horse should not look like an hors d’oeuvre on toothpicks. You should always be able to easily feel the ribs and in growing horses you will usually be able to see them.
The body condition score is all about fat covering, not muscle or body type. This Arabian and Quarterhorse are both an ideal body condition score 5. The Arabian is not “skinnier”.
Lesson 1 is to learn how to evaluate fat separate from muscle. Lesson 2 is to learn what your breed is supposed to look like. This might surprise you.
Morgan horse: https://tinyurl.com/3v79y8fc
How do you get there? As above, it’s all about calories but both amount and type count. Unless they are performing speed work, most horses do not need grains. Grains are a concentrated source of simple carbohydrates compared to grass or hay. Most commercial grain mixes also have added fat, which is 2.5 times more calorie dense than carbohydrate or protein. Tip: If fat is over 3%, there is fat added. Plain grains have 1.5 to 2 times the calories of hays. Bagged grains are 2 to 3+ times more calorie dense.
Don’t they need the vitamins and minerals from grain, or at least a “balancer”? No – or at least not in those formulas. What your horse needs is a supplement that correctly balances his hay https://wp.me/p2WBdh-112 . It doesn’t do any good to feed something that is itself correctly balanced but doesn’t take care of deficiencies or imbalances in your hay. For a horse that needs to lose weight or not gain any more, go with a concentrated supplement fed in a small amount of a low calorie carrier, like a handful of soaked beet pulp. If you need help selecting the right one, you can ask us https://uckele.com/askthevet.
Now that you have cut the high calorie grains and balancers out of the diet, what is your horse going to eat? – what nature intended them to eat, i.e. forage. Hay or pasture can support a normal body condition in most horses. In fact, you may have to limit how much they get. For an overweight horse, feed 1.5% of their current body weight or 2% of the ideal body weight to get safe, steady weight loss. Horses that are exercising above pleasure horse level will need more calories when at their ideal weight but for weight loss you can feed at 2% of body weight making sure protein, vitamins and minerals are adequate. Again, if you need help just ask https://uckele.com/askthevet .
Weight gain or loss on pasture is more tricky. You can’t weigh their intake and taking them off pasture part of the day usually doesn’t work because they can eat up to 3 times faster than normal when they do get access again. The solution is muzzling. This can be a psychological roadblock for owners, and horses are pretty adept at removing some muzzles, but there is a muzzle out there that will work for any horse. Observe the horse eating to be sure it is actually doing a good job.
The best part about horses slimming down to a healthier weight is they don’t need will power. They have you. You determine how much they are fed so please take their health seriously.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD