Unsound and Overweight Horses

The last thing you want, on top of the lameness, is for your injured horse to pack on the pounds.

Photo: iStock

How can you keep your metabolically efficient horse healthy when he’s laid up with injury or chronic illness?

Owning an easy keeper can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there’s the bliss of lower feed bills. On the other, the looming threat of laminitis. It’s particularly challenging when one of these “air ferns” becomes injured or lame and can’t work off his weight. Dropping from high levels of exercise to little or no exercise can wreak havoc on metabolism.

The last thing you want, on top of the lameness, is for your injured horse to pack on the pounds. Weight exacerbates not only metabolic issues but also musculoskeletal ones. So here are some pointers for rehabbing horses while also watching their weight.

What Are the Risks?

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about your horse putting on weight, especially when he’s recovering from an injury or dealing with a chronic lameness. “Additional weight means more stress on injured areas, even if the horse is only standing still,” says Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD, owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, in Robesonia, Pennsylvania. “Excess weight also impedes temperature regulation in the heat and makes the heart work harder. Even breathing can be more difficult. The extra weight makes it tougher for the horse during reconditioning and increases the risk of re-injury.” 

The greatest risk, though, is that of developing the hoof disease laminitis, she says. That’s especially true for horses prone to insulin resistance (IR), which is a reduced sensitivity to insulin that makes it harder for fat, muscle, and liver cells to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and store it as the fuel source glycogen. 

“Horses that become obese can develop a degree of IR that can be detected by sensitive intravenous testing,” Kellon says. “Horses on forced inactivity are also going to be less insulin-sensitive than they are when working hard.”

This article continues in the September 2017 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue including this in-depth feature on keeping your metabolically efficient horse health when he’s laid up with injury or chronic lameness.

Already a magazine subscriber? Digital subscribers can access their September issue here. Domestic print subscribers who have not received their copy should email circulation@thehorse.com.


About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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