How to spot metabolic changes in horses.


We take care of horses for the long haul. We know their itchy spots, their attitude, their language, their likes, their demands, their habits. We also know what’s normal, and what’s not. Every morning during our routine “cop a feel” checklist, we know if anything has changed. We also need to be aware of the long-term metabolic changes that our horses may exhibit. You will not just suddenly notice these things, they occur over time and it’s our job to notice them.


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  • Metabolic issues, such as Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance have major health implications for your horse in addition to increasing the chance of laminitis. For deep dives into metabolic disorders in horses, read these works of art about Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance (IR).


  • Luckily, a blood test or two can be easily carried out, and the management of such conditions is easy.


  • Diet, diligence, and some medications can help your horse and lessen the risk of laminitis – which is clearly linked to metabolic issues.


fuzzy horse with cushings in summer wearing a bridle

This fuzzy coat (in August) is a sign of a metabolic issue. A fuzzy coat is not the only indicator – and just because your horse is NOT fuzzy doesn’t mean he does not have a metabolic disorder.


Signs of metabolic changes in horses


  • Changes in the hair coat. Long and/or curly hair, maybe super fast growing! Is your horse’s hair growth different from last year?


  • Cresty neck that is not muscle.


  • Fat pockets, usually found on the tail head or around the shoulder blades near your saddle’s knee block.


  • Pendulous belly – like a puppy’s belly. Also knows as a hay belly.


  • Topline loss – muscles along your horse’s spine are shrinking.


  • A decrease in muscle mass all over your horse.


  • Soreness after shoeing or trimming.


  • Diminished energy overall.


  • Becoming an “easy keeper” or “air fern”.


two blood collecting tubes in a hand

A simple blood draw and lab testing can give you loads of information. Not all horses with metabolic disorders look or act like they have a problem. Do the bloodwork!


Monitor your horse’s weight


  • Spend a few dollars to have your horse tested for Insulin Resistance and Cushing’s Disease. By the time you see signs (like laminitis), the metabolic disorder is well underway.


  • There is overwhelming research about the detrimental side effects of overweight horses.


  • A recent study found that overweight horses DOUBLE the chance of developing laminitis.


  • Use a weight tape regularly to monitor your horse’s status. Check his weight every few weeks. Overweight horses are likely to move into insulin resistance.


Remember, any change in your horse is a sign of something! Talk to your veterinarian to determine why, and find out how to help your horse thrive again. And keep being a diligent, observant horse owner as you take amazing care of your horses.


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