Is your horse putting on weight? If so, you will need to take action or they will end up with an ever expanding waistline and potentially an obesity problem.
Horses can fatten up for a variety of reasons — for example, if they are on box rest following injury, if they are stabled for long periods or if they are turned out on rich pasture. You need to help a fat horse slim down but must avoid putting him on a sudden crash diet or he could become ill.
So what measures can you take to prevent obesity?
Different types and breeds of horses require different feeding regimes. To ensure that your horse isn’t gaining too much weight, become familiar with his size and shape, and use a weigh tape every week, noting down the readings so that you can pick up any increases.
Horses need to eat a certain percentage of their bodyweight in forage daily — ideally one to one-and-a-half per cent of their target healthy weight during a weight-loss regime.
If you are not sure what yours should be fed, contact a major feed company’s helpline. As a general rule, the waistlines of native breeds need particularly careful watching. They have evolved to survive on poor land, so if you live in an area with rich pasture they are likely to need their grazing restricted.
You can strip graze a horse using a moveable electric fence so that you extend the patch each day to give him a few mouthfuls of new grass.
Make the strip long and thin so that he has to walk a long way to graze and also to access his water and shelter. If electric fencing doesn’t work in your situation you could try a grazing muzzle. However, these should not be used 24/7, but for short periods under supervision.
If your land is poor and your horses needs supplementary forage, try mixing feed-quality straw with his hay to bulk it out. Straw is particularly low in calories.
If you have a native horse or pony — or any good doer, come to that — and do light or moderate work, it won’t need any manufactured additions to its diet.
If you have the facilities, turn an overweight horse out in a surfaced area, offering little and often in terms of forage, which you should place in small piles around the area so that he has to keep moving in order to feed.
Always ensure that he has constant access to water.
Don’t let your horse spend hours in a stable. He won’t lose weight by standing still — in fact he is likely to put it on. It is much better to turn him out on a patch of poor land or the above mentioned surfaced area.
If he must be stabled for certain periods, try using a haynet with small holes. This will ensure that he ‘trickle feeds’ and doesn’t bolt down the forage he has been given.
Like humans, activity will help to ensure that your horse doesn’t expand in all directions. You don’t always need to ride him, though. Consider exercising him in hand if he can’t be ridden or lunge him.
If you are worried about your horse’s weight gain, or you lack experience and need advice before putting a fat horse on a weight-loss programme, always consult your vet.