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Preventing Equine Obesity
 By Winniefield Park   •   25th Aug 2018   •   640 views   •   0 comments


Is your horse carrying a little too much weight, or maybe even much too much weight? Horses that are overweight are more likely to suffer health problems than horses that are on the lean side. Generally, you want to be able to feel, but not quite see your horseís ribs. There shouldnít be fat pads on either side of the tail head, withers or top of the neck. There should be no furrow down the horseís back, or dimples anywhere. These are all signs a horse is just too fat. If we donít take action, our horses can become prone to laminitis, insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome, fatty tumours, problems with breeding, and problems when working, especially in the heat.

Just like humans, when a horse eats more calories than it expends, itís going to put on weight. So, restricting calories and providing more exercise are key to taking that weight off again. And just like putting yourself on a diet, it means you may have to make a few changes.

Diet Paddock
In my past, Iíve tried putting horses in a Ďdiet paddockí to prevent them from eating too much. Apparently this isnít terribly effective. Horses that are denied food and then let back at a round bale or good pasture will just make up for lost time eating. The time they would normally spend napping or hanging out with pasture mates will be spent eating. So, you might find your horse isnít really losing weight even if you do try to keep it away from food sources.

Restrict Feed
For a horseís stomach to stay healthy, it needs to be constantly eating small amounts over the course of a day. But that doesnít mean it should have its head stuck in a rich round bale, or lush pasture all the time. Horses didnít evolve to eat rich pasture all the time. Rather, they ate fibrous grasses from less than lush pastures. And, they travelled miles a day to do this. Our horses are often out on good pasture, and if the pasture isnít great, we supplement with hay and concentrates. It isnít unusual to over feed. AFter all, we feel like we need to take very good care of our horses, and this a way to do that.

So restricting feed might mean feeding flakes of hay frequently throughout the day, holding back on concentrates, or changing to a blend thatís not going to contribute to weight gain, and saving that super rich hay for the horses that are in foal or lactating or working hard.

Hard Work
Race and performance horses work hard, and can take in a lot more calories than pasture potatoes. If you decide to put your Ďtaterí on a work schedule, ramp up slowly. You donít want to cause problems related to overwork. Even some exercise is better than nothing though.

Grazing Muzzles
Another way to slow a horse down whether on pasture or free choice hay is using a grazing muzzle. A grazing muzzle allows a horse to nibble at forage, without being able to grab great mouthfuls and wolf it down. And, being able to graze through the muzzle allows the horse to spend its time naturally, doing what nature programmed it to do. A muzzled horse will be able to stay with its herd mates, which is good for its mental health. You may find that you only need to keep your horse wearing the muzzle when the grass is growing quickly in the spring, during rainy times or in the fall. In the winter, the horse might not need it at all.

There are some downsides of using a grazing muzzle. Some horses are clever about rubbing them off, so they need to be fitted right. Like a halter, muzzles can become a hazard if they tangle on anything. Uneven front tooth wear can occur. They can cause chaffing. And, other horses may pull on and damage the muzzle. You canít just put one on and forget it, especially if your horse is reluctant to drink through it. A horse should have a few hours every day, without the muzzle. Some horses might not accept a muzzle. If you use one, it needs to be checked frequently.

Itís can seem harder to take and keep weight off a horse. And, it isnít as satisfying as feeding one up. But, for your horseís health, itís every bit as important.
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