Getting Ahead : Laminitis
Obesity remains prevalent in the UK leisure sector of horses and ponies, and is now also commonly found in the sports and elite horse sectors too. It is of great concern to all equine communities from both a veterinary and welfare point of view. However, despite the increasing amount of information that is available to horse owners and carers about the health risks of obesity, we are still struggling to gain control of an increasingly fat population of horses and ponies.
Laminitis is a condition that many owners are aware of as we approach the spring, but at this stage, managing their weight and ensuring they do not get above an optimum body condition score has often become a real challenge. A horses 'summer body,' is often dictated by their winter body condition, and so an overweight horse in the winter months is almost certain to struggle to lose this condition as the spring approaches. In good-doers, trying to ensure a healthy weight loss through the winter months is a natural process that can be key in getting a healthy start to your horses year.
Body Condition Scoring
Getting comfortable with assessing your horses body condition score is crucial to managing your horses’ weight. Giving your horse a body condition score and using a weigh tape regularly (every 2 weeks) can help to highlight slight changes in weight that might not be visible to the eye yet. Although weigh tapes are not always 100% accurate, when used in the same place and by the same person,they can give a rough estimate and be a good indicator as to what direction your horses weight gain or loss might be heading. Taking photos of your horse standing square without any tack or rugs on is also a great way to track your horse's weight management journey.
Adipose deposits or 'fat pads,' are typically located along the horses neck and wither, behind the shoulder, covering the ribs and across the back and tail head. This adipose tissue is considered to be metabolically active and will consequently produce hormones that will alter the horses sensitivity to insulin. Playing close attention to these areas is vital, particularly in those with an increased risk or history of laminitis.
Ways to help reduce weight
- Exercise is an essential part of a weight loss program. A horse will only lose weight is he is expending more energy than he is consuming, and it is important to remember even horses who are not ridden at all can still do exercise - think outside the box to keep your horse moving and interested.
- Soaking hay – forage is essential for horses physical and psychological needs. Physically it helps maintain a healthy digestive system and psychologically horses have a natural ‘drive’ and need to chew as they are trickle feeders. Soaking hay reduces calorie content without limiting the amount of fibre the horse receives. Soaking for just 1 hour (30 mins in water 16 degrees or above) followed by rinsing off of any sugary water will maintain hygienic quality whilst reducing the calorific value (DE) of the hay by 7%, whilst reducing the NSC value up to 40%.
- Restrict grass intake – spring, early summer and autumn has the highest levels of natural sugars in the grass. These sugars can increase weight gain and laminitis risk in some horses. Ways to restrict grass intake but ensure horses still get turnout include strip grazing or strategic use of a muzzle, with one study finding that using a muzzle can reduce grass intake by up to 80%. Horses on restricted grazing will benefit from innovative forage feeders to allow their natural instincts whilst regulating forage intake.
- Choosing a low calorie diet – balancers are a great way to ensure horses receive a fully balanced diet whilst keeping calories low and can be used for horses that are in retirement right the way through to top competition. Good-doers that are on a strict weight management programme will still require a balanced diet, and most low-intake balancers are very suitable for those with an increased risk of laminitis.
Download our body condition scoring chart
If you require immediate advice, please call our dedicated nutritional team on the number below to speak to a qualified nutritionist.