The battle of the bulge

Wow-the battle of the bulge – not just a concern for us, middle- aged humans but our horses as well! There’s an increase in the number of obese horses found in the leisure industry in industrialized countries and it’s now recognized as a real equine health and welfare concern.

Here are some highlights and suggestions from the current research: The increase of obesity in domestic horses may not only result from the way they’re fed and managed and exercised, but there may also be a shift in the perception of what is considered “ ideal” condition, due to the number of overweight horses and ponies winning at shows then being seen as the ideal ‘breed standard’ and the equestrian media then portraying obese horses as the norm. Owners may not be able to recognize when their horses are starting to become overweight.

“Carrying excess weight places increased stress on the skeletal system of the horse, can limit reproductive performance, adversely affect athletic performance and may lead to an increased risk of laminitis, osteoarthritis, heat intolerance and certain types of colic”.

Managing weight loss involves time and planning and, although experts stress that prevention is better than the cure, here are some feeding suggestions:

• consider that horses are trickle feeders and cannot be left for long periods without forage.

• use small-holed hay nets and slow feeders to slow down intake

• appropriately use well-fitted grass muzzles to allow them some access to pasture (after training the horse to wear and use one)

• removing blankets if possible so they can spend energy keeping themselves warm

• soaking hay in water before feeding it to reduce sugar and starch content

Once horse owners understand the dangers of obesity, they’ll appreciate the reasons why horses should not be allowed to become obese in the first place