We’ve all seen at least one article claiming a high percentage of horses are overweight, or even that it’s an epidemic. While the numbers are true, 40+ years as a veterinarian and a lifetime of observing horses tells me it’s nothing new.
Many horses that are not in high performance activity (e.g. working western, jumpers, combined training, endurance, racing) are overweight. We don’t see extreme obesity very often but a large number of horses are carrying more weight than is beneficial for them.
The horse doesn’t have to be a dead fit athlete to be a healthy weight. It’s simply a matter of less active horses needing fewer calories. Since caretakers control the feeding, overeating shouldn’t be an issue. A major problem is that too many people don’t recognize what a good body condition actually looks like.
Becoming familiar with the Henneke Body Condition Score is a good start.
This is a system for grading the horse based on evaluation of areas where fat typically accumulates. Individual points may be skewed by things like the horse being heavily muscled (e.g. heavy muscling can lead to a trough in the back rather than it being flat) but if all areas are carefully considered it is a good tool.
Another feature that I find useful applies to the pony above. The bulk of the forearm and gaskin should be proportional to the bulk of the rest of the body. This will hold true across a wide range of muscling types and variations in things like the depth of the chest. For example, both of these horses are in the neighborhood of a condition score of 5.
There are any number of invalid excuses for having an overweight horse…
“This is how the breed looks.” Many breeds gain too much weight when improperly fed. That doesn’t make it normal.
“She’s more content.” Don’t confuse sluggish for content.
“He needs fat going into winter.” It’s the winter coat that keeps the horse warm and you can add calories for heat generation if and when they are needed.
“She needs more meat on her bones to be healthy.” It’s not meat, it’s fat. Excess fat is not a measure of health—only calories.
Being overweight makes the heart work harder and breathing more difficult. It interferes with temperature regulation and puts tremendous unnecessary strain on the joints, tendons, ligaments and feet. One of the best things you can do for your horse is to free them from the burden of excess body fat.
All content is for informational purposes only. Contact your local veterinarian if you have any questions regarding the health of your animals.
About the Author
Dr. Eleanor Kellon is a renowned expert on equine nutrition and related health issues. She offers private nutritional consultations and online courses through Equine Nutritional Solutions. Find out more at www.drkellon.com, and read more of her articles at DrKhorsesense.com.