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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Overweight horses

I often feel frustrated at the advice given to owners about how best to manage their overweight horses. While I am not denying it is extremely important to keep your horse at a healthy weight, we don’t want to achieve that by sacrificing other areas of their health in the name of weight loss.

You cannot take an animal that is designed to eat for up to 20 hours a day and apply human logic surrounding diet and weight loss. Your horse isn’t eating his dinner then going to sleep for the night, nor is his body designed to do this.

Overweight horses are often treated harshly in terms of their management, as if their fat reserves are all they need to thrive. Just like with overweight people, horses can be still malnourished nutritionally while being overweight. People are told to feed absolutely nothing except soaked hay that has had much of the nutrition leached out of it, when the hay in this country rarely meets the right nutritional requirements in the first place. If you are soaking hay you really need to be thinking about feeding a suitable vitamin/mineral supplement. A token handful of low calorie feed to carry a powdered supplement in is hardly going to rock the boat and can give your horse the support he needs to stay healthy while losing weight.

Obviously increasing movement is a huge factor in successful weight loss, but hammering your overweight horse around on the lunge every day or riding them hard can be really damaging. Not only are overweight horses often struggling for energy as their intake has been so restricted, but any extra weight carried puts so much extra strain on the horse’s body.

I am always banging on about compensatory movements patterns and this can be exacerbated further in an overweight horse due to the extra strain their body is already under. If you work an overweight horse hard when they don’t have the strength to do so without reverting to compensatory postures, you’re really robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We need to really think about the ethics surrounding riding extremely overweight horses when they are already under so much strain just with their own body weight. In hand walking and just increasing gentle movement in their day to day lives can go a long way to helping a horse lose weight.

I would just like to reiterate I am not denying that a horse being overweight is a serious issue, I’m just saying that its not an excuse to ignore the horse’s other needs. I once had a vet tell a client to heavily restrict their horse’s forage intake, when the client expressed concern that the horse would be stood for up to 12 hours with no food, the vet replied “well she won’t die from ulcers”. Absolutely bizarre response as if our only two options are fat or ulcers, how about a third option with neither? This is a sentient being with their own feelings, emotions and needs, not a mathematical equation. It shouldn’t be weight loss at any cost when we have other options available. 🐴

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