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 it'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. See for yourself by learning more about each of these