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The symptoms of an overweight horse

brown horse on green and red grasses beside river, symptoms of an overweight horse

Over the past few years, vets and nutrition experts have been raising awareness of the obesity crisis in UK horses. It is currently one of the biggest killers of horses. But there still seems to be a stigma about overweight horses in that it’s only an issue for horses prone to laminitis. This is not the case!

Laminitis is a huge risk factor

Don’t get me wrong, laminitis is a serious issue, made worse by obesity. We know how important it is to keep horses and ponies prone to laminitis at a healthy weight. But even those horses who have never had laminitis or you wouldn’t expect to develop laminitis can do so when they are overweight.

How does obesity affect horse performance?

Aside from laminitis, there are plenty of other symptoms or side effects of obesity what can affect horse performance. It makes perfect sense, we should consider our horses as athletes. How many overweight human athletes do you see?

Symptoms of an overweight horse which can decrease performance

Our horses carrying a bit of extra weight can negatively impact their performance. Some common symptoms of an overweight horse are:

  • Laziness or being a bit lethargic.
  • Decreased stride length.
    Large bellys and/or fat pockets around the shoulders are thought to limit the range of movement. This can make it harder to perform certain movements or jump.
  • Decreased fitness/stamina levels
  • Stiffness/weakness through their back
    Carrying more weight over their body can cause the spine to sag with the weight. This can make it harder for them to work correctly over their back.
  • Poor saddle fit

Longer term symptoms of an overweight horse

Horses have evolved over time to be very energy efficient. Often when they are cantering, galloping & jumping, a fit healthy horse is almost pushing their tendons to their breaking point, making the most of the elastic energy they store. Every extra bit of weight we ask our horse to carry is putting more strain on their bodies. We have a much better understanding on the impact an overweight rider can have on our horse’s wellbeing and performance. But we don’t seem to factor in extra horse weight in the same way. BEVA President Lucy Grieve made a great comment in horse & Hound last year;

“You wouldn’t strap a 50kg bag of feed to your horse before you rode.”

Lucy Grieve

Letting our horses stay overweight puts them at risk of developing longer term health issues what could end their current ridden career as well as causing them quite a bit of discomfort.

  • Increased strain on joints & soft tissue
    This puts them at risk of developing an injury or arthritis. If your horse already has an injury or arthritis, being overweight will make these conditions worse.
  • Poor hoof conformation
    In response to the extra weight, horses hooves can spread, trying to cope. This can take a long time to correct and changes to hoof conformation also put strain further up the limps, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Increased sag in the spine
    Increasing the risk of spinal processes touching and fusing. (Kissing spines)
  • Increased strain on all the organs
    They are potentially more likely to develop a problem with a vital organ.

It doesn’t matter if your horse is prone to laminitis or not. It doesn’t matter if they are in work or retired. It doesn’t matter if they already have an injury or not. Being overweight is a serious risk for all horses and something we all need to start taking more seriously.

Last Updated on 09/08/2022

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