It’s tough to spot an obese horse when it’s your own.

We tend to think, “She’s just big boned,” or “It’s her breed.” Many owners aren’t even sure what constitutes “obesity.” However, ignoring the signs can be quite costly to your horse’s health. The most common problems include stress on the heart and lungs, greater risk of laminitis (founder), increased risk of developmental orthopedic problems, less efficient cooling of body temperatures, and reduced reproductive efficiency.

So, when does a horse go from being a little overweight to obese? Horse nutritionists draw the line when the horse’s body fat gets to the point that it begins to have a negative effect on her health. To diagnose an obese horse, it’s best to use The Body Condition Scoring System.

This test is set up with a scoring rank from 1 to 9 with 1 being too skinny and 9 being obese. The ideal sweet spot is a 5 or 6. Your horse should have a flat back. Her shoulders and neck should fade into her body smoothly and her ribs should not be easily noticeable.

Obesity is caused when a horse is taking in more energy than she’s expending. So the trick is to both decrease the amount of energy your horse eats (diet) and increase the amount of energy your horse uses (exercise, etc.). This means regular, daily exercise for your horse (provided she is sound and healthy).

When choosing a healthy diet for an obese horse, there are some key factors to remember. You don’t want feed with high-fat supplements. Vegetable oil, flaxseed, and rice bran are high in fat and calories. Eliminating these supplements from your horse’s diet will cut out a large number of calories.

Another key step is to replace legume hay with grass hay. Legume hay, such as alfalfa and clover, contains more calories per pound than grass hays. Instead of alfalfa, feed a high-fiber, good quality grass hay (Timothy or Orchard Grass) that’s free of dust, mold, and weeds. For instance, Standlee’s Timothy Compressed Bales, Timothy Pellets, and Orchard Grass Pellets are some of the best forages for helping an obese horse.

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