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“No horse ever died from being a bit lean.” – Obesity is killing our horses

peggie, a native pony prone to obesity

Spring has finally sprung and lush green grass is popping up everywhere. But while I think we are all happy to see the warmer weather, the verge of Summer highlights a huge problem facing horses in the UK. Obesity.

Obesity Kills

An article on Horse & Hound this week discussed how big an issue obesity is becoming in the UK. They interviewed a vet from a large practice in Yorkshire who said they put down roughly 30 horses each year due to obesity!

These deaths are usually related to conditions such as laminitis, where obesity can have a detrimental effect on the outcome. But he also commented on how when you see overweight horses with various tendon injuries, you can’t help but think that their weight must be contributing to this condition. However, despite the awful effect obesity can have on the health and longevity of your horse, vets believe that horses are getting fatter each year.

Do we have an issue with skinny horses?

How many horse owners do you know who stress over their horse being too skinny compared to their horse being overweight? I can’t help but feel that the biggest reason UK horses are getting fatter is that we are paranoid about our horses being underweight. There seems to be this misguided idea that if you can see some ribs that this is welfare case. Which leads to people over feeding their horses to hide their ribs, leading to an actual welfare case!

Don’t believe me that being able to see a rib or two is okay? Just look at a fit eventer. You can see some ribs but this horse is in fantastic condition. Do you believe them to be malnourished or mistreated? No.

Andrew Nicolson at Badminton 2017 on eventer. horse obesity

If your horse is a tad ribby or lacking a bit of coverage here and there, that is absolutely fine. In fact it is much better for the horse than being overweight. The vet in this article summed up this idea with the phrase “no horse ever died from being a bit lean.”

Controlling environments

Not only do we seem to hate skinny horses, but we are now able to control so much in our horses environment now. In the wild, horses naturally drop some weight over the winter and put it back on over the summer. Now while very little we do with our horses is similar to what would happen in the wild, their bodies haven’t evolved to completely forget where they have come from. This means that horses will naturally find it easier to put on weight in the warmer months.

Now that we are able to keep our horses warm and well fed over winter, our horses don’t tend to drop this weight over the winter. But when the Summer comes, they still manage to put on a few pounds. You can see how quickly this can become an issue if each Summer a horse puts on a bit more weight. As I have mentioned in a previous post, you shouldn’t worry about your horse dropping a few pounds over the winter. In fact in many cases I think it is something you should be encouraging.

How do I know if my horse is overweight?

While knowing your horse’s weight is fantastic for working out how much to feed them, I personally think body condition scoring is a much better way to determine if your horse is under, over or the perfect weight. This allows you to score different areas of your horse based on my much fat and muscle coverage they have in that area. You can average these scores to get an overall body condition score for your horse. On the 1-9 scale, 5 is perfect and is what you should be aiming for. I recommend having a look at Baileys Horse Feeds Body Condition Scoring Guide and scoring your horse.

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