Grand Meadows Cares Series:  Dancing Around The Overweight Horse

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

Horses come in all shapes and sizes. The variety of horse breeds all exhibit very different phenotypes and genotypes and managing the nuances of their diet requirements or tendencies to become overweight can be a cause of great anxiety for horse owners. This emotional turmoil can lead even the savviest horse trainer or equestrian to make poor decisions for the ultimate safety of their horse.

Smaller Equus such as ponies, donkeys and miniature horses are extremely prone to gaining unwanted pounds. Despite mammoth efforts to intervene with provision of grazing muzzles and dry lot paddocks these wee beasties seem to delight in somehow still managing to carry too much weight. Other breeds that have been imported from countries where availability of grass pasture and green hay is limited, such as the very popular Iberian breeds, also suffer from weight issues.

In the case of ponies and smaller Equus, it is essential not to treat their dietary needs the same way you might that of a horse. This is because their genetics allow them to utilize energy content from fiber much more efficiently than a horse and they have much less need for calories than an equine as they burn up to 15% less.

An overweight horse, pony, mule or donkey is a hazard to himself and it is not a subject to dance around and not address. Compromised health aspects are likely to follow him around throughout his life unless the equine caregiver takes remedial action. Obese horses are more likely to suffer metabolic imbalances, lameness, heart conditions, gastric issues, and a myriad of other medical complaints.

In some cases the horse owner is barn blind to the obesity issue their equine showcases. Perhaps believing that as ‘round is a shape,’ their equine partners actually are in shape.

It is very easy to under-exercise a horse as despite our best intentions often our busy lives take more time away from our horse passion than we’d like. To compensate we may overfeed him with treats to try and make amends for the limited time we are spending at the barn. We may add layer upon layer of supplements to the feed bucket in our effort to do the best for our horses and to mitigate the overweight issue that in reality we have ourselves created.

Emotion plays a big part in how horse folks manage their beloved equines and their actions can inadvertently promote a huge safety issue in the health of the horse. Duplication of ingredients through over-supplementation often arise due to FOMO {fear of missing out} on the latest skillfully marketed supplement combination and is often to blame for the horse owner’s constant need to supply stuff ‘just in case’ it may work wonders for their horse in some realm or another.

The quantity and quality of the feed intake of the animal is obviously a key factor in ensuring that an animal is kept in healthy condition. As the great Hippocrates stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And while the balanced diet requirement for all horses may be similar in terms of its content of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and the rest, each animal will uptake differing amounts of the ingredients provided depending on its individual gastric system’s efficiency.

The controversial question of whether, “To Grain or Not To Grain” is one worthy of consideration when addressing the overweight equine. Horses are designed by Mother Nature to be grazing animals, and so obviously forage requirements also play an essential role in the balanced diet and gastric health of the horse and are the foundation of a balanced diet. How best to manage the nutritional needs between grain and forage is well-worth knowing.

Dropping grain from the equine diet altogether and instead managing metabolic and digestive health with a combination of forage and supplements, with a nutritional balance carefully investigated and adjusted for optimum health, is becoming an increasingly popular option in managing a horse’s dietary needs.

So just what is the horse owner to do if they don’t want to dance around the subject of their horse’s weight?

  • A good starting point is to identify the animals body condition through the simple score system. Here is a good visual guide.
  • Discuss the body condition of your Equus with your vet during the next checkup for suggestions on best practices based on your individual equine’s needs and health status.
  • Educate yourself about options to optimize the metabolic and gastric health by use of accurately labelled, rated for authenticity (NASC) equine feed supplements. Ask lots of questions directly of the manufacturer and do some keen research to be sure you are not just throwing money away on overly priced products that are simply heavily marketed.
  • Keep the equine diet as simple as possible. Do not overcomplicate or overfeed. Buy for quality not quantity and have all forage checked for nutritional values.
  • Minimize the use of chemicals and fillers in the horse’s diet and utilize organic products wherever possible especially in hay where salt, chemical preservatives and dry down agents may otherwise be present that may harm the horse’s digestive tract causing inflammation.
  • Choose supplements with stabilized ingredients in formulations that are clearly identified and are actually present in both the quantity and provenanced quality they claim.

Think of obesity as two sides of a seesaw. On one side sits food and on the other side exercise. Clearly if these two factors are out of balance then the seesaw will move wildly up and down. Too much exercise without the proper nourishment will harm the equine body and too much food without sufficient exercise will do the same. Randomly playing about with either is not a good idea.

All Equus are comforted by routine. Make concrete plans for regular exercise, eliminate unnecessary feed and identify good nutrition to fuel a successful outcome to getting your equine partner truly in shape. Nutrition is a science and understanding its foundation offers the horse owner a way forward to avoid expensive vet bills, minimize the need for specialized horse management practices and the best gift ever – confidence in the knowledge that they are truly doing the best for their horse’s well-being.

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 About Grand Meadows: Founded in 1989 by visionary Angela Slater, Grand Meadows is a leading horse health product and equine supplement manufacturer driven by the guiding principle of providing affordable, extremely high-quality science-backed horse products to help ensure horses look and feel their best.

For the past 35 years the company’s mission has been honored and developed further, by President Nick Hartog, who among other accomplishments is one of the founding members and current board member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), an organization that has a profound impact on the safety, transparency, and legitimacy of the animal supplement industry.

Grand Meadow products are widely used and trusted across the entire horse community from Olympic medal winning competitors and successful horse racing trainers to backyard horse owners. Their equine supplements are highly regarded for their excellent quality resourced ingredients and completely accurate labelling and effective formulations. Learn more at

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