Help your horse lose weight!
Before we even get rolling on this topic – you must get your veterinarian and, if you have one, your equine nutritionist on board for this plan.
- It’s very easy to muck things up here, and your horse can even gain weight, get ulcers, have an unbalanced diet, or be generally unhappy and uncomfortable if you don’t approach weight loss properly for your horse. And it’s especially true that each horse is different, and therefore will have a different weight loss plan.
These very broad guidelines are only a place to start to help your overweight horse lose some weight. Get your expert team involved to create and execute an actual plan for your horse.
- But first – you need to have a way to track your horse’s weight. Get a weight tape. This inexpensive piece of horse care equipment can tell you how your horse is progressing. Weigh your horse every week or so, maybe even every month, and log it! I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast, much less how much my horse weighed two weeks ago.
Here’s how to estimate your horse’s weight
- Measure around your horse’s girth, and then get another measurement from your horse’s point of shoulder to the point of buttocks.
- Then math:
(Girth in inches x Girth x Length) / 330 = Approximate weight in lbs.
(Girth in centimeters x Girth x Length) / 11,900 = Approximate weight in kg.
- If you rely on your eyeballs to notice things and fingertips to “feel for ribs” you are not doing your horse any favors. While our eyes and fingertips are lovely and delightful and pretty, they are not accurate measuring devices of your horse’s weight.
- The same goes for your horse’s girth fit. Leather stretches, you use different pads, your horse’s hair coat changes.
- For more on measuring your horse’s weight, read this!
Help your horse lose weight
Take a long hard look at your horse’s current feeding plan.
- Not just what he eats, but how much of it. I’ll bet that you will find loads of calories, everywhere. Also, look at HOW he eats. Slow feeder or meals? 24/7 pasture, or in a stall or paddock or both? This allows you to have a place to start cutting calories – without cutting forage and chewing time.
Drastically restricting your horse’s hay will backfire.
- As calories and chewing time are reduced, a horse’s metabolism will slow down. This slows how quickly your horse uses calories, and your horse will try and conserve as much as possible. This leads to weight gain.
- Reducing forage by too much will also create stress in your horse’s body. Your horse won’t chew as much, and ulcers may appear as stomach acids are bored, with nothing to work on.
- A horse in stress creates cortisol, which in turn makes higher insulin levels in your horse. More insulin stimulates your horse to gain weight.
How to adjust your horse’s hay
- Ideally, your horse should be eating about 1.5% of his body weight in forage every day. You can change the type of forage to a lower-calorie version. Typically, grass hays will have fewer calories. Late cuttings also have fewer calories. Soaking your horse’s hay is another way to adjust his hay for the better.
Make changes to your horse’s feeds
- Feeds are where you may be able to make a significant impact on your horse’s health. Grains, feeds, and concentrates often have calories that not all horses need.
- Most horses need some feed addition to fulfill the vitamin and mineral requirements of a balanced diet. Grains and feeds can complete those, or you can use a lower-calorie ration balancer or a simple supplement.
- This is where it gets tricky for us – the horse owners that double as treat dispensers. Treats are part of your horse’s diet, and you can make them healthier. Higher sugar fruits and treats are easily replaced by hay cubes or hay pellets.
Here’s why you need an equine nutrition expert.
- Your horse’s age, allergies, location, job, type of hay, past medical history, and even taste preferences influence what vitamin and mineral supplement works best for your horse. When fresh cut grass turns to hay, many vitamins and minerals are lost. For example – a horse that doesn’t get grass pasture needs a supplement to replace the Vitamin E, for example. But the horse that gets pasture will need a different one.
- An Equine Nutritionist can also guide you to the proper types of hay for your horse. High-calorie alfalfa or a low-calorie grass? Or a mix of the two? Your forage plan and hay types also help determine the proper vitamin and mineral supplement.
- While you’re at it, make sure your horse has an appropriate source of Omega fatty acids, and they are in the proper Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio.
Your horse needs to eat all the dang time to lose weight.
- If you don’t have slow feeders, you better invest in some. There may be an acclimation period for your horse to figure out that he’s going to have food in front of him all the time.
There’s another school of thought out there about free-feeding hay, such as that from round bales.
- If your horse knows he will always have access to hay, even without a slow feeder, he may self-regulate his own eating. Your vet and equine nutritionist can help you decide if this works for your horse, or if slow feeders are best. This also might boil down to ease of management and logistics, it’s not always feasible to keep loose hay flakes in front of your horse at all times.
- But pasture is not the answer! It’s too dense with calories.
You may need to change where your horse hangs out
- A horse that spends a lot of time in a stall may have a harder time losing weight. So might the horse that lives on pasture. Dry lots can be excellent for many horses – they allow movement, you can stash slow feeders around, horses can be with their friends, and they are freshly ventilated and easy to clean.
- Most horses that need to lose weight should come off pasture turnout. At the bare minimum, grazing muzzles should be used and the amount of time on grass reduced. Horses are well documented in being to learn how long they have on grass, and will speed up their eating to accommodate more grass in a shorter time. Hence, get your horse a grazing muzzle or switch to dry lots.
Your horse needs exercise!
- Assuming your horse is sound, it’s time for him to get in shape. Even serviceably sound horses can have an exercise routine. Keep your horse’s exercise regular, like every day regular.
- Ramp up your horse’s exercise routine. You could either add in more trot work, incorporate hills, walk for a longer time warming up and cooling down, give your horse a 10-minute brisk hand walk in addition to being ridden, loads of ideas.
- Your veterinarian can help you come up with an appropriate way to increase your horse’s exercise that is safe and fair for your horse. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you want increased exercise to be successful for your horse.
- Tracking your horse’s fitness along the way is easy to do by monitoring your horse’s heart rate and recovery times. As fitness increases, the recovery time of your horse’s heart rate back to normal will decrease. Also, check your horse’s soreness levels and soundness as you increase his exercise levels.
Your horse may need medications to help him lose weight
- There are some medications that can help boost your horse’s metabolism and support his weight loss. They are prescription, and not appropriate for all horses. They are usually also temporary. These medications can serve to give your horse’s metabolism a swift kick in the butt if need be.
Limit pasture time, and use a grazing muzzle. This is the bright and functional Greenguard Grazing Muzzle.
Use grazing muzzles
- The beauty of grazing muzzles is that they support everything your horse needs – chewing, movement, outdoor life, herd interactions, and slow feeding. Grazing muzzles also reduce the risk of laminitis and help with weight loss.
- If your horse needs help losing weight, it might be best to let your horse have pasture grass. Pasture is ideal for nutrients and natural horse life, but smaller amounts over longer periods are best. Most grazing muzzles reduce grass intake between 60% and 80%. All of the benefits with fewer calories. And, your horse still gets to stave off ulcers by slow feeding.
Other things to look for as your horse begins his weight loss journey.
- Is he losing too much, too quickly?
- Is his behavior changing? Horses developing ulcers can become girthy, among other things, they might start chewing the barn down, they might be snarky when being groomed.
- How is his soundness? Is his exercise routine allowing for strength building while keeping his muscles and joints pain-free? Watch for muscle soreness and any indications he’s not 100%. This article on spotting lameness has tons of details to pay attention to.
- Is his tack still fitting? His topline will transform as his weight changes. You may find that your horse’s saddle may become too tight if he’s gaining muscle, or the withers may become more prominent if he’s losing fat.
- His coat changes. He might lose or gain some shine, you might notice something different with the texture of his hair coat, or you might notice something going on with his skin.
Keep your vet and team involved if you notice any outward changes.
- There are a lot of reasons to keep your horse svelte, not the least of which is the risk of laminitis associated with overweight horses. This is often closely linked to Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), which has one common denominator in horses – their weight.
- This might all sound like a wildly daunting task to help your horse lose weight, but think of all of the quality time you will now be spending with your horse.
Now go out and walk with your horse!
If you are looking for a weight tape and other health supplies, grab them here! As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and this is ZIPPO extra charge to you! I thank you for your support!
Weight Tape – although they come with directions to measure weight, be sure to use the method above for more accurate results.
The best muzzle in the land – order one here! Also in raspberry and black colors.
Greenguard Grazing Muzzle – now in fresh fuschia and lime green colors!
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds