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Horse Obesity: Proper Feeding and Prevention
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Horse Obesity: Proper Feeding and Prevention

It's not always easy to tell if your horse is obese. In fact, many horse owners tend to think that their horse's breed or genetics make them naturally larger, rather than as a result of diet. And some owners have no idea what an obese horse looks like. Obesity is a condition when there is an excess body fat which has accumulated to the extent that it may have a serious effect on the overall health of the horse.

Ignoring those signs of obesity could be devastating to your horse’s health. Some of the most common problems include stress on the heart and lungs, greater risk of laminitis disease, increased risk of developmental orthopedic problems, less efficient cooling of body temperatures, and even reduced reproductive efficiency.

So, how can you tell if our horse is getting obese? One effective tool is the Henneke Horse Body Condition Scoring System, a scientific method of evaluating a horse’s body condition regardless of age, body type, breed, and sex. The Body Condition Scoring System can give an immediate idea of the current physical state of your horse.

There are many reasons horses become obese. But the biggest factor is the lack of owner education about equine nutrition. Surveys have shown that horse owners generate most of their nutrition knowledge from feed dealers and not from independent nutritionists, academics (professors and researchers of equine nutrition), or veterinarians.

Obesity occurs when a horse is taking in more energy than what it is using. So, the trick is to both decrease the number of calories coming in (diet) and increase the amount of energy your horse uses (exercise, etc.). Daily exercise and workouts are recommended. As far as diet goes, here are some tips & tricks.

  1. Avoid feed with high-fat supplements. Rice bran, vegetable oil, and flaxseed are high in calories and fat.
  2. Feed a high-fiber and good-quality grass hay. Avoid legume hay, which has more calories.
  3. Finally, remember all horses should eat about 1.5 to 2% of their body weight in forage per day. It is important to first select a clean forage that is free of mold, dirt, weeds or other contaminants.

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