If you love your horse, and I know you do, then it is up to you to keep that horse healthy! What my horse is eating, how much he is eating and how active he is are things I watch out for every day. We all know that carrying too much weight can be a health risk for ourselves. It is time to realize that the same health risks that can plague overweight humans can also affect overweight horses. So today, I want to spend a little time talking about how to be aware of your horse’s weight and fitness so you can spend as many years as possible with your friend and companion.
Dangers of Obesity in Horses
The complications that can be caused by obesity in horses are similar to those of humans. Insulin resistance, akin to Type II Diabetes, is a common occurrence in overweight horses. Insulin resistant horses have an intolerance to carbohydrates. Excess consumption will lead to excess weight and that weight will exacerbate the insulin issues. Insulin resistance is a metabolic syndrome that is a clear danger to the health of your horse. Symptoms mimic diabetes in humans and include excess thirst and urination.
Laminitis is a real concern for obese horses and is a very painful condition. Excess weight can put stress on the hoof and lower leg which can cause changes in the coffin bone and inner hoof wall. A horse with laminitis will often stand or walk awkwardly in an attempt to ease the pain. In severe cases the tip of the coffin bone may penetrate the sole of the foot.
Increased weight in horses can cause strain on all of the major organ systems, especially heart and lungs. Arthritis, joint pain, lack of energy and even reproductive problems are a small list of other potential issues that can be caused by obesity. The good news is: every one of these health concerns is avoidable.
How Much is Too Much?
Just like me, my horses love treats! Sweet and savory tidbits that somehow make my day feel a little better seem to do the same thing for my four legged friends. Of course, ice cream is my favorite.
The horses prefer sweet and succulent grasses and clover. I have learned that just as I have to limit my intake of my favorite treats, I need to do the same for my horses.
When you know your horse well, you will know by sight if there is any major change in weight. Stay aware of how your horse looks. Your healthy horse should have a flat back and no sharp angles where the neck and shoulders meet the body. A horse of the proper weight will not have protruding ribs or hip bones either. Obviously those rules of thumb are describing an underweight horse, which is not healthy either. Overweight, or obesity, may be a little harder to identify.
Becoming familiar with the Body Condition Score may make it a little easier to identify an increase in weight before it becomes problematic. The score was developed to allow horse owners and veterinarians to establish real answers to questions regarding the condition of a horse. The Body Condition Score is a number scoring system that is based in fact, rather than arbitrary words such as fair or poor. The score runs from one (unhealthy and overly thin) to nine (extremely fat). A horse in the five to six range is considered to be at optimum weight.
Your veterinarian can help you determine whether your horse is at a healthy weight or not. Rely on their expertise but know your animal. Can you still feel the ribs? If not your horse may be carrying a few extra pounds. Do you see or feel spongy fat deposits at the tailhead or the shoulders? These are warning signs you should watch for but also be aware of activity levels and if there are any indicators of pain. Catching these early signs of weight gain will make your horse’s journey back to health easier and safer.
Remember that the best things you can give your horse are love and care. A little treat, now and then, is OK too! But keep moderation in mind. And after you share your apple with your buddy, take him for a ride. The exercise will be good for both of you.