Feeding Ponies with Insulin Resistance

Hello. I have a large pony that is Insulin Resistant. He foundered 3 years ago – August and come to find out he’s Insulin Resistant but not Cushings. Because I caught it so quickly we were able to “cure” him and to this day he is SOUND! He hardly rotated. I noticed he was getting QUITE fat and saw a beautiful cresty neck (to which I thought I was training him SO well, and that’s why he had such a beautiful neck!) He is on a VERY strict diet – beet pulp, cinnamon, rice bran, vitamin E and salt. He’s now on A HANDFUL of Triple Crown Low Starch with SmartControl IR and MSM pellets. He also gets Timothy/Alfalfa hay. He hasn’t been ridden in a while and has been “hanging out” lately. I’ve noticed that lately he’s blowing up like a tick again and my “foundering” fears are coming back! He’s absolutely fine right now. He’s been on this hay for a long time and I haven’t changed a thing other than him not getting much exercise lately. Is there any kind of diet HAY or something I can DO for him? He tends to get colicky on Timothy Hay Cubes (wet or dry) and has a small ulcer. Any suggestions? He’s worth every problem he has. I just adore this pony. He’s 16 years old. Any suggestions would be so helpful. Thanks so much! M.S

Dear M.S.,

Thanks for your question. Your pony is lucky to have such an observant and dedicated owner! It sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right. Let me just make a few suggestions here and there to see if I can help.
As you know, insulin resistance is managed in three ways: diet, exercise and appropriate supplementation. Based on what you feed your pony, I’m concerned his diet might not be completely balanced nor meeting his minimum nutritional needs. While it’s important to reduce the sugars and starches he gets (and overall calorie content), it’s also important to continue providing at least 100% of his daily vitamin and mineral requirements. This can be done with a commercial ration balancer, now offered by several different feed manufacturers, or a multi-vitamin mineral supplement.

Next, I’m impressed you can provide him with the same mix of hay year-round! However, even if hay is cut from the same field, it can vary dramatically in sugar content depending on which cutting it is, how mature it is at the time of cutting, and how it is handled after cutting. I suggest you routinely analyze your hay for sugar content and when it occasionally creeps up close to 10 or 12%, just soak it in water for an hour before feeding to remove some sugar. I’m sure you already know that pasture grass is a big no-no for your guy.

You mention your pony hasn’t been ridden in a while. This is probably the number one reason he is starting to pick up weight again, as exercise plays a huge role in how sensitive insulin is. Experts aren’t sure how it works, but they know that daily exercise improves glucose metabolism in both people and horses. You didn’t say why your pony is just “hanging out” right now, but I recommend you or someone you trust provide him with at least 30 minutes of controlled activity per day. Turnout is beneficial, but not as good as hand walking, lunging, riding, ponying, driving or even round pen work.

It sounds like you’re on the right supplement: SmartControl IR Pellets. You probably have him on the maintenance dose right now. I suggest you go back to the loading dose during those times of the year when he seems to gain weight for no reason or it’s the end of the show season and you’re giving him a little time off. I recommend you add an antioxidant like Vitamin E to your nutritional program as research shows obesity and insulin resistance are linked to high levels of oxidative stress. Congratulations on your successes so far and I hope these tips help!