Researchers Examining Weight Gain, Loss in Varying Breeds

Researchers Examining Weight Gain, Loss in Varying Breeds

Study results suggest that some horse and pony breeds tend to hold on to weight better than others, despite diets and exercise.

Photo: Christy M. West

Got a fat pony that won't lose weight? Give him some slack—it might not be entirely his fault. According to new study results, some horse and pony breeds just tend to hold on to their weight better than others, despite diets and exercise. But don’t give up on your weight loss regimen, the researchers say, as a fat horse is still at increased risk for serious disease. These scientists are helping lead the way toward a better understanding of how to manage weight in various breeds.

“Ponies and certain horse breeds (such as some Andalusians, Morgans, and Warmbloods) are known for their tendency to put on body fat quite readily (compared to Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds),” said Simon Bailey, BVMS, PhD, FHEA, Dipl. ECVPT, MRCVS, associate professor in preclinical veterinary sciences at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Melbourne, in Australia.

Bailey and his fellow researchers allowed ponies, Standardbreds, and Andalusian crosses to gain weight before putting them on controlled diets and exercise programs to help them lose weight. They found that the Standardbreds lost weight quickly just by switching to a hay-only diet, but many of the ponies and Andalusian crosses retained their weight, despite a restricted diet and daily light exercise.

The team is also evaluating how and where fat is deposited on the horses’ bodies as they gain weight, and how various hormones are affected and potentially play a role in both weight gain and loss in the different breeds.

“Our study … is the first to compare directly three different breeds of animals and compare changes in body fat on different types of high-calorie diet as they gradually become obese,” Bailey said.

“Theoretically, our work should tell us more about the links between nutrition, the body metabolism of different breed types (which is showing some striking differences), obesity, and potentially the equine metabolic syndrome,” he said. “Also, it will inform us about the best strategies for managing obese animals, and how best to accurately measure and monitor adiposity (fatness).”

This research, part of an ongoing study performed in association with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, U.K., reveals definite differences in weight gain and loss in different breeds, Bailey said. However, the researchers are not ready to hand out updated practical recommendations based on the findings just yet, he said. The team hopes to have additional research completed and published in the near future.

"Comparison of weight loss, with or without dietary restriction and exercise, in Standardbreds, Andalusians and mixed breed ponies," was included in the May issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science and presented at the Equine Science Society Symposium, held May 28–31 in Ruidoso, N.M. 

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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