If your horse or pony is a little on the chubby side, then you’re not alone!
Studies report that between 20 and 45% of the equine population is overweight or obese (Durham et al, 2019) and feedback from vets and nutritionists suggests this figure could be considerably higher. Being overweight increases the risk of laminitis in horses and ponies, so to avoid this horrible disease you really need to take action and get your horse’s diet under control.
In order to reduce the risk of laminitis in horses, there are a few things that you can do:
Once thought of as a disease in its own right, laminitis is now often considered to be a symptom of another underlying health problem, particularly the endocrine issues EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) and PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction formerly known as Cushing’s Disease) which are associated with insulin dysregulation.
Click here to view our Laminitis Guide and learn more about Laminitis and which products in the Dengie range are suitable for those prone to laminitis.
The key is to use horse feeds that are low in sugar and starch which usually means they contain lots of fibre and oil. High or prolonged intakes of sugar and starch are increasingly being linked to insulin dysregulation which is a predisposing factor to laminitis. Be careful that you don’t over-condition your horse as the greatest risk factor for laminitis in horses is being overweight. Unfortunately, “fat” is becoming normal – research has shown that horse owners frequently underestimate the condition score of their horse meaning they are underestimating their risk of laminitis too. If you are in any doubt ask a nutritionist to assess your horse and don’t succumb to peer pressure to have a cuddly pony – cuddly might be cute but it isn’t healthy!
If you really do need to promote weight gain then feeds such as Alfa A Molasses Free and Alfa-Beet are really low in starch and sugar but contain moderate levels of energy (calories) Alfa-A Molasses Free is a medium energy feed but contains around 10 times less starch than a cereal based feed with a comparable energy value.
A couple of studies have been done investigating this including one by our very own nutritionist Tracey Hammond. The general estimate is a reduction in intake of about 75-80% depending on the time of year. Do be aware that if you take the muzzle off and let your horse or pony graze freely they can consume their total daily requirement in just a few hours! Some horses and ponies have adapted their grazing behaviour to increase intake even when wearing a muzzle so do keep an eye on what they are doing!
Molasses itself is not dangerous or harmful to horses – it has been used as an ingredient in horse feeds for decades. It is a source of sugar and if used in large amounts can significantly increase the amount of sugar a horse consumes. The key point is how much molasses is added to a feed and how much sugar the other ingredients contain – this determines the overall sugar content and therefore suitability of a feed for a horse or pony prone to laminitis. The Laminitis Trust have strict criteria based on findings from independent research as to what levels are acceptable. If the total sugar and starch content of a feed are below the levels set by the Trust then that is what determines the suitability of the feed for a horse or pony prone to laminitis.
Hi-Fi Lite combines chopped straw and alfalfa with a light molasses coating. Hi-Fi Lite provides 7.5MJ/kg digestible energy, 7% sugar and 1.5% starch and so is a low calorie, sugar and starch feed. Hi-Fi Lite is particularly useful for weight loss if a low calorie forage replacer is required for good do-ers, or overweight horses when only haylage may be available on the yard for example.
Hi-Fi Molasses Free combines chopped and pelleted alfalfa and straw with a light rapeseed oil coating and the added herbs mint and fenugreek for tastiness. Hi-Fi Molasses Free provides 8.5MJ/kg digestible energy, 2.5% sugar and 1.5% starch. Use Hi-Fi Molasses Free if your preference is for a molasses free feed or if an exceptionally low sugar and starch ration is required for example for those with Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
If your horse isn’t receiving a bucket feed, but is overweight then energy or calories are being over-supplied by grazing and/or forage and it is these that need to be managed in order to encourage weight loss in conjunction with increased exercise.
Tips for managing grass access to help reduce the risk of laminitis in horses include turnout on a no grass area with supplementary forage, strip grazing or the use of a grazing muzzle. When it comes to forage, mature forages with a lower digestibility will provide less energy. Look for coarse, stalky hay or appropriate low calorie hay replacers. Straw can replace up to 30% of the total forage ration to reduce energy intake as long as it is introduced gradually to the diet. The overall amount of forage may also need to be restricted to 1.5% of the horse’s bodyweight on a dry matter basis daily to assist weight loss.
Whilst grazing and forage can over-supply energy or calories, UK pasture and forage tend to lack key trace minerals such as copper, selenium and zinc and conserved forage also lacks vitamin E. A low calorie fibre feed from the Dengie range combined with Leisure Balancer or Leisure Vits & Mins can provide a balanced ration.
Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a metabolic problem characterised by obesity or regional adiposity.
Achieving weight loss is certainly not easy and, with horses and ponies, there are a number of additional factors that make it particularly challenging.
More often than not, we come across the question ‘what is molasses’? Take a read of our guide to molasses for horses to find out!
It can be difficult keeping the weight off horses and ponies that are not being ridden, such as companions. Exercise doesn’t always have to involve riding, so here are some ideas of how you can add variety to your horse or pony’s exercise regime without having to get in the saddle.
In the UK, feeding straw to horses as the sole forage source is rarely done. However, straw can be a really useful feed ingredient particularly for diluting more nutritious fibre sources so the combination can be used to maximise chew time for good doers.
Selecting the right feed for horses with ulcers that are good do-ers can be tricky. What's the priority with these individuals - managing the ulcers or promoting weight loss? Find out more.
How much do you know about starch in horse feed? This article explores what starch is, why we feed it to horses and why we need to be careful. Find out more.