Obesity in horses is rising in the UK at a significant rate. Equine charities in the UK now see obesity as the biggest threat to horse health and welfare. As equine nutritionists specialising in whole horse health, we find this very concerning.
There are several reasons why obesity in horses is on the rise, but first we need to understand the natural cycle of fat deposits and loss in equines. As a herbivorous species, wild horses naturally range large distances in the search for forage to meet their physiological and nutritional needs. During the summer and autumn, they will choose the grasses and plants high in sugar and starch and build up layers of body fat and adipose tissue. In healthy horses this buildup of adipose tissue is necessary for survival as these fat stores are gradually used up over winter when forage is scarce.
Given that domestic horses’ physiology has not changed significantly over millennia, compared to their wild descendants, they are still genetically programmed to expect this cycle of weight gain and loss. This is particularly prevalent in our native breeds such as cobs, dales, Highlands etc., or desert breeds such as Arabians.
However, our management of domestic horses usually means that this cycle doesn’t happen. Our horses are well fed and kept warm throughout the winter and in summer they have lush pastures and feed available too. We can combat the risk of obesity through exercise and control of calories from feed and forage (grass, hay and haylage). Providing that they are given sufficient exercise and their feed and forage doesn’t exceed their calorific requirements, they should remain at a normal weight throughout the year.
If horses cannot get sufficient exercise, and their calorific intake is not adjusted to take this into account, then most become overweight and obese. Like us, obesity presents many health difficulties in equines. Internal organs such as the liver starts to store fat, preventing it from working efficiently. Adipose tissue builds up in the body, e.g., along the crest line, shoulders and tailhead. Adipose tissue affects hormone regulation and causes Insulin Resistance. The effects of Insulin Resistance are like those caused by Type 2 diabetes in humans. In horses these symptoms can lead to laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
Excess weight can also cause mobility problems, making exercise more difficult along with joint problems such as arthritis. These induced problems can be prevented, by frequently assessing and monitoring your horse’s weight and body condition.
At Total Horse Feed, we believe in assessing the whole horse when it comes to health and well-being. Our TOTAL feed contains all-natural ingredients which are easily digestible and utilised by your horse. As a complete feed it is nutritionally balanced, high in fibre, low in starch and sugar, so is a perfect balance to forage.