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Overweight Horses

What Is It?

  • Exercise plays a key role in reducing insulin resistance, which is a condition that is prevalent in horses that carry a lot of weight.

  • Obese horses are at increased risk of stress on the heart and lungs, greater risk of laminitis or founder and increased risk of developmental orthopedic (bone and joint) problems in young, growing horses.

  • Overweight horses also put more strain on feet, joints, and limbs and worsen symptoms of arthritis.

  • In addition, overweight horses experience less efficient cooling of body temperatures, fat build-up around key organs, which interferes with normal function and contributes to lower reproductive efficiency, greater lethargy and fatigue.

  • Some overweight horses may have metabolic disorders such as PPID. This should be investigated, as medical treatments may be necessary to control these disorders.

Dietary and Management Recommendations

  • Many obese horses cannot tolerate high levels of starch and sugar in the diet and should be maintained on rations that are low in calories and contain higher levels of fiber.

  • Horses in training that are easy keepers should be fed lower calorie feeds but in sufficient amounts to meet dry matter and all other nutrient requirements.

  • Grass hay is recommended over legume hay for its lower calorie content.

  • The best way to keep horses from becoming overweight is to control intake. Horses on lush pasture should be fitted with a grazing muzzle or placed in a dry lot and fed grass hay.

  • It is important to know exactly how much feed is being fed to an individual horse to avoid overfeeding hay and concentrate.

  • Monitor weight gains or losses using a weight scale, weight tape or Body Condition Scoring System—and adjust feeding rate as may be required. Avoid a Body Condition Score over 7.

  • Always provide free-choice salt and fresh, clean water.


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