Overweight Horse

By: Dr. Lydia Gray

What is it?

Horses that score 7, 8 or 9 on the 9-point Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale are considered overweight. Carrying too much weight can lead to problems such as laminitis; more strain on feet, joints and limbs; increased stress on heart and lungs; lethargy and fatigue; and less efficient cooling. Ponies and some breeds of horses are "easy-keepers" and prone to being overweight, but this doesn’t mean they have to be.

What can be done about it?

A weight reduction program in horses includes diet, exercise and close observation. Replace all grain with a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Feed grass hay at a rate of 2% of the current body weight and gradually reduce this to 1.5%. Limit grass (pasture) and treats. Ride, lunge, drive, or handwalk rather than rely on free-choice exercise. Every two weeks, estimate and record the body condition score and weight of the horse. Weight can be estimated by a commercial weight tape or by using a weight calculator formula.

What else do I need to know?

Some horses may be overweight due to Equine Metabolic Syndrome—a syndrome of obesity, insulin resistance and laminitis in middle-aged horses. Cresty-necked horses or those having trouble losing weight should be examined by a veterinarian for EMS. In addition to proper diet and exercise, the prescription medication levothyroxine sodium (Thyro-L®) and supplements such as chromium and magnesium may help manage the condition.

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.