himself if he’s overweight.
Start your horse on a gradual program of long, slow distance. Ride at
the walk and trot, gradually increasing the amount of exercise time. If he
is sound for it, begin adding in some
canter after the first few weeks.
If you are short on time, still make
an effort or get some help so your
horse exercises every day. Even 15
minutes of trotting on a longeline will
do wonders when you need to pop in
and out of the barn quickly.
Your horse should be able to fully
recover within 30 minutes (pulse and
respiration) from whatever activity
you decide on.
Use the Henneke Body Condition
Score system monthly to track progress. Scores range from 1 (emaciated)
to 9 (obese, with pads of fat in specific
places). The goal score is a 5 or a 6. Be
sure to actually put your hands on the
horse to feel his neck, ribs and loin for
diminishing fat stores.
If your horse has EMS already,
work with your veterinarian to
closely monitor diet and weight.
Managing Editor HOLLY CACCAMISE has an
M.S. in Animal Science with a specialization
in equine nutrition and exercise physiology.
“But it’s not his fault,” you say. “He’s a pony/warmbood/Mus-tang/Morgan,” et cetera. While some horses are just born with
a “thrifty gene” that you can’t undo, that’s no excuse for letting
your horse suffer from health problems.
With that said, let’s work on controlling the controllables.
There are three main calorie bombs that might be causing the
problem. Think carefully about your horse’s diet: is he getting
any of these? Pasture, grain/sweet feed, and legume (alfalfa) hay.
Start by looking at your hay; it’s pretty simple to switch
from alfalfa to grass hay. If you can feed a more mature type
(less soft and green, more stemmy), while still keeping an
eye on the quality (fresh and free of weeds), this is the best
Taking it one step further and feeding his hay out of a
small-hole net will keep him occupied longer, reducing the incidence
of gastric ulcers and behavior problems. Keep small meals coming, preferably
three times per day.
Next, let’s look at grain, more correctly termed “concentrate” in the horse-feed-ing world. This refers to a concentrated source of calories, which can include
different grains, fats, and sometimes beet pulp. If your barn just goes down the
line dumping a scoop of the same grain to every horse, you need to make sure he
stops getting it.
A much better choice for the easy keeper is ration balancer, which comes in
the same type of 50-pound bag, but is fed in a much smaller serving of only 1
to 2 pounds per day. It contains all of the vitamins and minerals needed to meet
your horse’s nutritional requirements, without all of the calories. Provide water
and a salt block free-choice at all times.
Whatever you do, do not starve the horse until he starts losing weight. This will
slow down his metabolism—the opposite of what you want—and there is a chance
he could get liver damage from a condition called hyperlipidemia. This is where an
obese horse’s body mobilizes fat deposits, putting undue strain on the liver.
The last stop on the intake inventory is pasture. If your horse goes out on pasture
and blows up like a tick when the spring grass comes in, he will need to be fitted
with a grazing muzzle. There are several types available—but the most important
factor is that it stays on.
Studies have shown grazing muzzles can reduce grass consumption by over 80
percent, although some crafty horses are able to still devour almost unchecked. If
this is the case, your horse should be moved to a dry lot, where he can eat his hay
in a small-hole net instead of grazing.
If you decide to turn your horse out for a shorter time span, such as one hour
per day, be aware that horses can gobble up a tremendous amount in this short of
a time if they have been deprived of grazing beforehand. If you do go this route,
use a muzzle, and consider turning out in the morning when the sugar and starch
content of the grass is lowest.
Just like with people, the magic secret to weight loss is diet and exercise. Even
if your horse gets turned out on acreage, he’s unlikely to run laps and exercise