New Year, New Start!
It is natural for horses to gain weight through the summer and drop significant amounts of weight through the winter months, but we can upset that rhythm by excessive rugging and forage feeding.
The result is year-on-year weight gain and eventually, serious diseases including metabolic syndrome, laminitis, exacerbation of lameness, arthritis and respiratory problems.
January signals new beginnings and is an ideal time to tackle any excess weight your equines have been holding onto after the summer excesses.
Here are my top tips for assessing and tackling obesity in equines:
- Use a body condition scoring scale to assess your horse’s condition. I use the National Equine Welfare Council 0-5 scale, horses should be between 2.5 and 3.5, ideally nearer 2.5 in spring. You can download the charts at tinyurl.com/n3d7c5g or we can give advice at routine examinations.
- If your horse is body condition score 3.5 or above, weight loss would be beneficial. However, to change the body condition score of a horse requires significant losses, so progress is better monitored using girth measurements. Weight tapes are ideal but any tape measure will do, consistency is key (same place, same time of day) there is an instructional video on our YouTube channel. Measurements should be taken fortnightly, to see if the girth circumference is reducing, static or increasing and feeding adjusted accordingly.
- When calculating diet, forage (hay or haylage) should be fed at 1.5% of body weight in dry matter per day. The body weight used should be an estimate half way between current weight and ideal weight in kilograms, so a 600kg horse, that is 100kg overweight should use 550kg x 1.5%, approximately 8kg dry hay in 24 hours. If that horse grazes for 12 hours a day, the amount should be at least halved (dependent on pasture quality/size) to 3-4kg fed when in the stable.
- Soaking hay in cold water for 12 hours reduces the energy content by half allowing more generous quantities to be fed or more successful weight reduction. However, vitamins and minerals are also removed and soaking is impractical in freezing weather. A one hour soak in warm water will give the same energy reduction and may be more practical. Remember to calculate weights in dry hay, then soak it.
- Horses on a calorie controlled diet, do not to get enough protein in their diet, which affects their metabolism and energy levels and tends to slow weight loss. This can be addressed by feeding a low calorie balancer to top up vitamins, minerals and provide adequate protein.
- If weight loss is very slow or absent, the total amount of dry hay fed should be reduced by a quarter of the amount being fed every 2 weeks. Until weight loss is achieved. If weight loss is dramatic, it can be increased by a quarter. The total amount fed should not drop below 1% of body weight (allowing for grazing) as this would harm the horse.
- Hay/haylage can be mixed with straw, to provide bulk with low calories and high fibre, but horses fed only straw are at increased risk of gastric ulceration. Straw only diets are ideal for weight management in donkeys.
Body condition is an important part of your horse’s health and we are happy to discuss weight and specific weight management strategies at routine examinations or over the phone (photos, side on and rump views can be helpful).
For more information and advice call our team on 01332 294929.