Horse Weight Management FAQ

Horse Weight Management FAQ

Decreasing energy intake, through the restriction of things like pasture and grain mixes, to 70% of maintenance energy requirements is effective at reducing body weight and improving glucose metabolism.

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There's a lot to consider when it comes to managing your horse's weight: How heavy is too heavy? How thin is too skinny? Does my horse need both hay and grain to maintain an ideal weight? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding equine weight management.

Q: How do I know if my horse is the right weight?
A: There is no ideal weight for a horse of a given height, as things like breed and build can greatly affect weight. However, for a given height there is a likely a range of weights that correspond to good condition (fat coverage). Learn more in Determining Horses' Body Weight and Ideal Condition.

Q: What can I feed to make my horse gain weight?
A: There are many feed selections that contain calories that can contribute to weight gain in horses. The first thing to try is to simply offer more hay or other forage. If your horse is already eating free choice hay, then other high-fiber feeds such as beet pulp or even hay cubes, along with some vegetable oil, can pack on the pounds. Commercial “weight gain” products may be useful but are often more expensive than raw ingredients such as beet pulp or oil. Avoid feeding too much grain or concentrate, as these are associated with problems such as colic or laminitis. Learn more in Feeding Horses to Increase Weight and Body Condition

Q: How do I get my horse to lose weight?
A: With patience! Losing weight, for horses and humans, takes time and commitment. Decreasing energy intake, through the restriction of things like pasture and grain mixes, to 70% of maintenance energy requirements is effective at reducing body weight and improving glucose metabolism. Exercise also helps to burn calories, hastening the weight loss efforts. Learn more in Feeding Horses to Reduce Weight or Body Condition

Q: My horse is lazy. Is there anything I can feed to give him more pep for our workout?
A: Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of feed that can cure a lazy horse—just as there isn’t anything people can eat to make them less lazy for their workouts. High-sugar feeds (such as sweet feed, corn, or oats) may offer some short-term pep, but not without risk. The sugar rush associated with these feeds is short lived and is followed by a crash, and may predispose a horse to the development of insulin resistance. The best thing to do to “cure” a lazy horse is to get him into better shape so he’ll be more suited to the level of work expected. Learn more in Exercising Horses for Weight Loss.

Q: Does my horse need grain?
A: It depends. Grain is typically fed to increase the energy (calorie) content of the diet. Horses that are not in work or are overweight likely do not require additional energy, and most horses can derive most to all of their energy requirements from forage. Horses fed only forage may, however, require some kind of feed (a ration balancer or vitamin/mineral supplement) to help supplement their protein, vitamin, and/or mineral requirements, depending on the quality of their forage. Learn more in Formulating Equine Diets.

Q: Is it cruel to put a muzzle on my horse or to put him in the “fat pen?”
A: No! In fact, anyone who has ever seen a horse suffer from laminitis knows that wearing a grazing muzzle or being in a dry lot is a much better alternative. Learn more in Grazing Muzzles' Efficacy at Reducing Pasture Intake.

Q: How can I find out exactly how much energy and other nutrients my horse needs? How can I make sure his diet is perfectly balanced?
A: Working with an equine nutritionist (one who has graduate level training in equine nutrition) or veterinarian is the best way to get unbiased nutrition advice. When provided information about your horse (age, body weight, body condition score, overall health, activity level) as well as your feed (ideally with hay or pasture analysis and weights of any current feeds), a nutritionist can generally work through what your horse needs and how your feeds meet those requirements. They can suggest feeds that would meet any deficiencies and work with you to design a special weight-gain or weight-loss program for your horse. If you prefer to do things on your own, working in a spreadsheet can help you calculate all of the energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals that are currently in your horse’s diet. Several books (the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses, for example) can give you estimates of your horse’s nutrient requirements. Learn more in What Nutrients Does Your Horse Need?

Q: What is insulin resistance?
A: Insulin resistance is a condition in which the hormone insulin isn’t effective at regulating blood glucose concentrations. This results in uncontrolled glucose concentrations and often very high amounts of insulin, both situations possibly contributing to laminitis. Insulin resistance may develop when horses consume diets high in starch and sugar, and/or with obese horses. Learn more in Health Concerns Related to Equine Obesity.

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