Is Your Horse Too Fat?

Battling my mare's bulge has been an uphill fight that I am thus far losing.

I am partly to blame because I feel bad when I feed the other horses and skimp on Topaz's portions. On the other hand, my 'horse-and-a-half,' has turned the – "How-can-you-do-this-to-me-when-you-know-I'm-starving" – routine into an art form. She nickers affectionately when her barn-mates are fed, paws for attention and stretches her nose around her stall guard, gingerly removing tendrils of hay from her neighbor's mouth.

Ironically, it was tough to put weight on Topaz from the time she was a yearling until we moved her home to live with us when she was 7. We struggled to beef her up while she lived at three boarding barns, adding supplements and changing grains among other things. But as soon as she became queen of her own barn, she blew up like a balloon.

How Do You Know Your Horse Is Too Fat?

The physical signs include a slight crease down the back, spongy fat palpable over the ribs, accumulation of soft fat pads on the tailhead, and the beginnings of fat deposits along the withers, behind the shoulders and all along the neck.

The ribs are still palpable at this stage but it's difficult. When horses get fatter it becomes very difficult or even impossible to feel the ribs. The fat along the neck, withers, shoulder and tailhead are obvious. There is an enlarging crease along the back. At this point, a normally 1,000-pound horse is getting up near 1,100 to 1,150 pounds.

Tips to Keep The Weight Off

There are no diet pills or low-fat foods to help the hefty horse slim down. You just have to reign in the food and exercise the animal. It's really a function of calories in and calories out. The problem is that adipose tissue (fat) is very dense: only 10 percent to 20 percent is water. The rest is just plain fat. It is more dense than protein or carbohydrates, so it requires a great amount of work to get rid of.

Here, however, are a few suggestions to help get your horse on the path of health and happiness:

If you reduce grain intake, do it gradually so your horse can become accustomed to the change. Read the ingredients on the back of the feedbag, too. Some grains are higher in fat than others. And feed grass hay instead of alfalfa, which is higher in caloric content. Make sure that your horse continues to get a salt block and plenty of water.