What Could Go Wrong If Your Horse Becomes Overweight
As in humans, horses can too become overweight! It is common for horse owners to say that they like their horse being a bit chubby, but trust me, it can do more harm than good. In this article, we will discuss the risks associated with an overweight horse, how to detect it and also how to get them to lose the weight.
Table des matières
- How Can I Tell if My Horse is Overweight? ⚖
- How Does The Body Condition Score Work?
- And What Does This Score Mean?
- What About My Horses Weight?
- What Are The Risks If My Horse Is Too Fat?
- So How Do I Make My Horse Loose Weight? 🍎🍐🍌🍉🍇🍓
- Hay and Straw
- Physical Exercise
- Little “Energetic” Parenthesis
- What If My Horse Is Too Skinny?
How Can I Tell if My Horse is Overweight? ⚖
To measure your horse’s body weight, we use body condition scores. In 1997 a method of body condition scoring was published by the INRA (the famous score) ranging from 0 (emaciated) to 5 (obese). This method involves looking and touching the fat deposits in 5 places on your horse’s body. This method has an advantage as it does not depend on the size of the horse, it is purely in comparison to their weight.
Let’s look at the 5 spots of criteria:
|Neck||Back of the shoulder||Ribs||Withers||Tail|
|1/5||Neck bones apparent||Hollow||Extremely apparent, skin on bones||Sharp, top of the scapula visible||Hollow tail|
|2/5||Slightly fallen crest||Slightly concave, thin fat deposit||Can be seen under thin skin layer||Marked and dry||Hollow tail|
|3/5||Fallen crest||Becomes flat, delineated fat deposit||Can slightly be felt||Comes slightly out||Tail slightly hollow, a slight fat deposit covers the vertebrae|
|4/5||Edge of neckline grippable in full hand||Convex, thick and soft fat deposit||Cannot be felt under the fatdeposit||Cannot be seen||Tail slightly detached, thick and soft fat deposit|
|5/5||Fallen crest drowned under the neck mass||Clearly convex, mass trembling at palpation||Greasy layer rolling under the hand||Drowned under a rounded fat mass||Massive, fat deposit forming a firm cushion around the tail|
Reference:  
How Does The Body Condition Score Work?
Take each criterion and assign your horse a grade which suits their current condition (you can give 1/2 points if necessary). Then take the number which you have given them and write them all down like so : 2,3,3,2,3
We then must follow the calculations below to achieve the overal score.
Body score = (2 × 0.1) + (3 × 0.2) + (3 × 0.55) + (2 × 0.1) + (3 × 0.05) = 2.8 rounded to 3.
And What Does This Score Mean?
A general body score condition is situated between 2.5 and 3.5 but it is normal for this to fluctuate a little bit due to seasonal change. 
“Some say that the perfect score will vary depending on breed and/or discipline  (dressage horses would be more around 3 – 3.5). Unfortunately, these assessments are purely aesthetic which do not take into account specific health aspects. A dressage horse at 3.5/5 may seem okay on paper, however, from a health point of view, it could cause osteoarticular problems related to being overweight. Whichever the discipline, a horse will be healthier with a score of 2-2.5 than with a score of 3.5. “(Small insert from Marine Slove, our house vet)
What About My Horses Weight?
You can calculate your horse’s weight using several methods. Either you are lucky and you have a scale or you use a special measuring tape. It is like a normal measuring tape however it just estimates your horse’s weight directly. If you do not have access to one of these, you can use a normal measuring tape.
When using a normal measuring tape, measure the height at the withers and the chest perimeter (measured at the girth). Then, apply the following formula which will give you the approximative weight of your horse (+-25kg):
Weight (kg) = 3 x Height at withers + 4.3 x Chest perimeter – 785  
⚠ This formula is valid for ridden horses only
One thing is certain, the weight alone is not enough to determine if the horse is overweight or not. Body composition (% fat and lean mass) is more important than weight itself. 
What Are The Risks If My Horse Is Too Fat?
If your horse is overweight, it can lead to quite a few issues. Veterinarians at the Grosbois Clinic state some of these: 
- Increased stress on the cardiorespiratory system
- Increased risk of laminitis
- Increased risk of orthopaedic disease development on youngsters
- Greater stress on feet, limbs and joints
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Fat deposits around vital organs (overloading the liver and kidneys)
- Decreased fertility
- Increased fatigue
To understand a little more about osteoarticular constraints we will use an example: when a horse jumps, they can withhold up to 4 times their own body weight on their forelegs which land first . Keeping this in mind, imagine if your horse is overweight…their tendons, joints and bones will be under severe pressure and that’s not only while jumping.
📚Read More: 6 “must know” aspects of the horse’s respiratory system
📚Read More: 4 tips to deal with your horse’s arthritis
So How Do I Make My Horse Loose Weight?
Well, this is a little more complicated…
First, things first: try to find the cause of why your horse is overweight. It may be linked to an illness: (eg Cushing’s disease, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, etc.)…so, our first tip is to call your vet!
What is very important to remember is, NO DRASTIC CHANGES IN THEIR DIET. Changes in your horse’s diet should not happen overnight as this can have more harm than good. It can cause diarrhoea, liver failure resulting in colic, laminitis, or even septicemia. Therefore, if you need to make any changes to your horse’s diet, it is recommended to make the transition over an 8 to 10 days period, giving time for the intestinal flora’s enzymes and microbes to get used to their new diet.
Other Tips: it is better for overweight horses to have multiple meals (hay and hard feeds/grain) as this allows them to get as close to their natural feedings habits as possible. For example, you can divide the day into 6 different feeding times, 3 hard feeds/grain and 3 hay. For the hard feeds, it is important to avoid drastic changes in each meal. Keeping the feed as similar as possible will stabilize the intestinal flora. For example, it is not recommended to feed 1 meal of barley, then 1 meal of oats and 1 meal of pellets.
📚Read More: The 3 things to avoid when feeding your horse
Hay and Straw
Horses that are stabled with straw often start to eat the straw underneath them, to avoid this, you can put your horse on a shavings bed and feed them good quality hay instead.
For fit horses that do not work every day (there are lots of dressage horses that train very technically but only 3 days a week), we can increase their workload. It’s like us, to lose holiday kgs, we have to run!
If you increase your horses work load be careful to keep the exercise within their capabilities, otherwise an increased work load which your horse cannot handle can increase the risks of osteo-articular constraints.
If you increase their work load, make sure to increase their feed to be suitable for their energy needs!
📚Read more: Here’s the only way to improve your horses fitness
Little “Energetic” Parenthesis
Let’s take an example of a 550 kg horse, he works 1 hour per day and needs 6 HFU/ day (Horse Forage Unit = 2200 kCal net energy – that corresponds to the energy released by 1 kg of barley). This corresponds roughly to 5 kg of meadow hay (0.5-0.6 HFU / kg) + 3.5 – 4 kg of pellets (0.8-0.85 HFU / kg – to be verified on the label ). It is important to know this so you can identify the exact diet your horse needs. Remember to check the HFU numbers of your pellets because some of them can go up to 1 UFC / kg. This is very energetic and could explain the weight gain.
What If My Horse Is Too Skinny?
If your horse is too skinny, the first step is to call the vet to find out the origin. The 3 main causes are usually:
- Teething Problems
In all 3 cases, your vet is required
Most of the time what helps getting a horse back in shape is feeding them a more energetic feed by adding fat. Oil for example! The advantage of fat is that you avoid laminitis risks which can be caused by high starch. Therefore, you can give the equivalent of 100 to 120 ml of mixed oil 2 times/day in your horse’s feed.
You can also increase your hay or even feed it all day long! Also, its sometimes a good idea to add probiotic supplements. The supplements will encourage intestinal flora activity.
Remember to lower the quantity of your horses feed or hay once they reach a healthy weight, otherwise he will continue to gain weight!
There is a lot more to know about your horse’s weight but I hope this article was enough to convince you to pay more attention to it! Obesity in horses can be a serious issue with irreversible consequences. Maintaining an ideal weight must go well beyond our aesthetic considerations.
Till next article!
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