Using a rigid carpenter's measuring tape or a 6-foot ruler, measure the length of your horse's torso on one side, in inches, from the point of his shoulder to the point of his hip. Example: Horse with a 66-inch girth and a body length of 62 inches.
For each of the following checkpoints, select the description that most accurately describes your horse's body. Then, add up the total number of points you've recorded and divide that total by three to calculate his body condition on a score of one to 10 (see interpretations of score below).
In the full-body shot, notice the excess fat in this horse's neck, withers, ribs, and behind the shoulder. In the bottom photo, this horse's back and tail head are thick and fleshy.
In either case, consult your vet for a safe weight-loss (or gain) program to achieve your horse's optimum condition. Keep in mind: Even though you may enjoy the satisfaction of giving your horse lush grass or sugary treats and grain, you're going to increase his life span--and make his life more enjoyable--by keeping him fit.
The girth to height ratio estimates overall fat deposits and ties in to the body condition score. A score of 3 or greater is usually a crest neck and the horse is likely to be overweight and prone to metabolic disorders.
Laminates Equine Metabolic Syndrome Insulin dysfunction Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol When a horse gains excess body weight as fat (adipose tissue), their performance and use declines.
Obesity is a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis and other joint problems. Excessive body weight increases muscle strain, which can make it harder to function normally.
This comes as a result of the excess fat both directly under the skin and surrounding vital organs that traps in heat. Restricting your horse’s caloric intake and increasing exercise is key to body weight loss.
This will also help make sure the excess body weight will stay off your horse in the future. Monitor how much your horse eats Horses at an ideal body weight usually consume about 2 percent of their body weight in feed (includes hay, grain products and supplements) daily.
Limit an overweight horse’s diet to 1.5 percent of their body weight daily. For example, a 1,200-pound horse should receive 18 pounds of feed daily when restricted to 1.5 percent of their body weight.
We recommend feeding overweight horses a mature grass hay. Building a simple hay scale is easy and inexpensive, and can be done with materials from your local hardware store, including a small tarp (or hay net) and hanging scale.
Reducing or removing grain from your horse’s diet will also decrease caloric intake. Many overweight horses are fed only “a handful” or very small amounts of grain.
This can result in deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals that horses must consume to stay healthy. We recommend feeding a ration balancer in order to prevent any nutritional deficiencies.
Ration balancers are commercially prepared horse feeds designed to be fed in small amounts and provide vitamins and trace minerals without additional calories. We consider NDF levels between 40 and 50 percent to be ideal for promoting hay intake.
Unwanted behaviors such as cribbing, weaving or pacing Ulcers Incidences of choke Spikes of insulin and glucose levels after a meal Finding ways to slow feed intake is especially important for horses on a restricted diet.
More time spent foraging better mimics a horse’s natural grazing behavior and will help keep glucose and insulin levels steady throughout the day. Horses spent 21 to 60 additional minutes eating grain from the feeder compared to a bucket or tub.
North Carolina State University tested a waffle structure that be canned insert into a feed bucket. North Carolina State University tested grain feeding time using a bucket with four movable bocce-style balls (4 inch diameter) placed in it.
They found the balls were effective at extending (by 4 minutes) and maintaining the time it took horses to consume feed after multiple days of use. Additionally, the researchers found that the balls produced the lowest glucose and insulin responses compared to other feeding methods tested.
Decrease the amount of body fat being gained by burning the calories taken in daily Burn up or use fat in the body, resulting loss Enhance the health and capabilities of muscle and bone You should slowly and steadily increase the activity level of an overweight horse to prevent injuries.
A common exercise plan starts with a 30-minute combination of walking and slow trotting two or three times weekly. The exercise intensity, duration and frequency can increase as the horse loses body weight and gains fitness.
Dean Catalan, Marcia Hathaway, Krishna Martin son, Rachel Motet, Abby New If more than one of these methods indicates your horse is overweight, work with an equine nutritionist and veterinarian to plan a body weight loss program.
I’ve seen very fat horses with such a deep crease down their back you’d think it would catch water in the rain. Very fat horses will develop fat pads on either side of the tail head, and behind the point of the elbow in the girth area.
Over all the too fat will look rounded, have little muscle definition, with haunches that are ‘apple cheeked’ over the top. Along with ‘too fat comes the risk of laminates, EMS, more stress on joints and cardiovascular system and poor fertility.
This is best done gradually, because just like people, horses can develop health problems if weight is lost too quickly. Horses still need grass or hay, but in smaller quantities at frequent intervals.
Breeds like Quarter Horses and most ponies that are ‘easy keepers’ can become too fat very easily. These horses do not carry very much body fat, but their muscles are well-defined and strong.
The too skinny horse may look ewe necked, the withers may appear very pronounced and the spine may be easily felt beneath the skin. The ribs and hip bones may be sharply visible and easily felt and the haunches appear sunken.
Horses become too thin for a number of reasons including lack of food, stress or illness. It’s important to discover why a horse is skinny, in order to provide the right feeds or treatment.
Mares that are nursing foals can lose weight rapidly, especially when mothering happens when heat and biting insects are at their height. Muscle definition is visible, with no pads of soft fat over neck, girth area or haunches.
The University of Kentucky offers a useful PDF that describes how to use the Heineken Condition Chart and explains the methods of scoring. That’s a good question and one that I was asked routinely during annual preventative wellness checks on my patients.
An ideal way to determine body condition is by feel of the chest wall or ribs. What we want or desire, on a basic level, is to be able to feel those ribs with light pressure, but not visibly see them.
The typical signs of an overweight horse are not only the rib pressure test, but also fat deposition over the points of the hips, a deepening crease down the spine and also a crest neck. The more active a horse is, in regard to competition and training, likely the thinner they will be, however, this is not always the case and often breed dependent.
Several reasons for this which include breed, age and even level of work differences between the two sports. In the real world clinical setting, we have horses that fall into two categories.
We have those that are backyard pleasure horses, more recreational or even just sedentary in their lives who are overweight. Then we have those horses that are competing or training, on various levels, which can be regarded as overweight or more so, easy keeper types.
An overweight body condition, whether if we are a horse, companion pet or human, does not equate to health. Looking at it in regard to human data, the higher the body mass index (BMI), the more likely one is to suffer ill health side effects ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to even cancer.
The more overweight that horse is, the more health related problems we, as the owners, will deal with emotionally and financially. In the early stages, most horses start off as ‘fleshy’ or mild easy keepers.
We see the overweight body condition building and maybe even a drop in stamina or performance. The process of inflammation becomes a real factor with most health ailments and an overweight body condition is no different.
The fat deposits actually secrete their own inflammatory proteins, termed adenosines. This is why any overweight person or animal demonstrates higher levels of inflammation, and is also predisposed to further health ailments.
In the horse, over time, the heightened inflammatory process at a cellular level contributes to more recognizable conditions such as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism and laminates, not to mention potentially Cushing’ disease, allergies and even joint or foot problems. Those owners that are familiar with those conditions know that not only can they be costly and time-consuming to manage, but are difficult, frustrating and often lead to years of suffering.
In the veterinary community, those conditions are likely the most common causes of high expenditures by the owner in regard to diagnostic testing, medications and ongoing care. If we want to gain weight, we need to consume more calories than our body is burning or using on a daily basis.
Through high consumption of processed foods, we are not only getting way too many calories, often from fats, but we are also not getting the proper nutrients that our body needs to function. On top of all this, we as humans, are not getting the proper exercise to fuel and work our body, which not only burns calories, but also enhances vital functions, including metabolism and organ health.
Lack of Exercise: This is not always a factor in every overweight horse, but does play a major role in a high percentage. If a horse is overweight, plain and simple, they are burning fewer calories than they are taking in daily.
To me, exercise means a planned routine, often pushing that animal to submaximal levels, obtaining target heart rates and calorie burns, for a set period of time several times per week. Running a few ground poles under saddle, a few dressage moves or even a few barrels a couple of times per week is generally not sufficient.
We strive to help them lose weight, but one major component, exercise, is missing from the regimen. It is true that in some cases, the horse is not capable of exercise, maybe due to ongoing laminates or even breathing problems.
The impact of stress is beyond the scope of this article, but it is safe to assume that in a large percentage, it is a player. On a basic level, we may have a horse that is gaining weight that is in a boarding situation, likely stalled most of the day or put in a small paddock for only a few hours with minimal grazing.
This restricted not only hinders the ability to full exercise, stretch those legs and burn calories, but also contributes to more added stress. Boarding, being an entity itself, is also often counterproductive to helping a horse with their weight problem in many ways.
They want a ‘one size fits all’ type of approach for ease, which makes sense, but is not logical. Not every overweight horse of a high body condition score can be reverted to a 5-6.
In human studies, just the elimination of processed foods and implementation of a high fruit/veggie diet can create huge strides in weight reduction in the average person. Through alteration of that diet, that person will likely lose weight due to enhanced performance of their machine, their body, through proper nutrient provision.
Some ways we can get around this are to keep the paddock or pasture mowed short, so they have to move about to get new grass. Third, we could just plan a daily exercise regimen, such as riding or lunging, to burn those calories then allow them to be turned out almost as a reward.
Through that exercise regimen, we hopefully can reset the metabolic burn, thus potentially helping us to offset the increased grass intake in regard to calories. No more treats, unless they are warranted or at least natural in form, such as an apple or carrot piece.
However, hay needs to be fed based on body weight and in most cases of overweight horses, we feed about 1.5% of By daily. However, as exercise and proper supplementation is put into play, those energy needs and nutrient requirements may change.
Many options to choose from, however, no matter what blend we opt for, volume fed is key so as not to overload the situation. By going natural, we eliminate the expensive processed feeds and many harmful additives within them, moving to something that is more controllable, affordable and healthier.
Overweight horses are more prone to inflammatory problems, which impacts them on many levels from metabolism to joint function. Herbs and even fruit extracts can greatly assist us in this area, boosting the benefits of a diet regimen.
Herbs such as curcumin, Boswell, dandelion, parsley and even marshmallow can be very helpful in these patients from an inflammatory point of view. Then, we have more nutritive herbs or fruit extracts such as spirulina, alfalfa, spinach, blueberry, non fruit, bilberry, apple peel, straggles and even the mushroom Peoria cocos, that not only help us from an inflammatory point of view, but many also provide real nutrient and antioxidant benefits.
In the end, through proper use, we are able to mitigate damage cellular events and help restore normal cell function. In one of our research projects, we demonstrated how the use of a fruit and berry based formula in horses actually resulted in an average weight loss of 30 lbs or more, in a 30-day period.
Stress is also a key player and often made worse through a poor health condition. Over time, by altering diet and exercise, we may actually change that stress response, making it more favorable.
If the situation cannot be changed, meaning factors such as boarding or training are creating that stress, then we need to implement specific herbs into the regimen to help offset those negative outcomes.