Conditioning & Weight Loss In Horses

Equine Weight loss is a condition that most horse owners have had to deal with at one time or another.

A horse that appears thin can be suffering from weight loss due to a number of issues. There are three common issues that can cause unexplained weight loss in horses:

  • malnutrition
  • parasitism
  • dental disease
If a horse is suffering from malnutrition then the number of calories it is consuming is less than the number it is using, it may alternatively be suffering from an incorrectly balanced diet. Causes of this include feeding poor quality feed, supplying insufficient quantities of feed or the horse may missing out on feed due to competition at feeding time.

Equine Parasites can rob your horse of much needed nutrition as the parasites rob the horse of the nutrients or cause inflammation of the horses gut leading to poor absorption of nutrients across the gut wall.

A targeted parasite management program involving the use of appropriate wormers given at the correct dose, combined with pasture management and fecal egg counts should minimize the impact parasites are having on your horses.

Dental problems can decrease your horses FCR or Food Conversion Ratio. This is a measure of how efficient your horse is at converting feed into energy.

The first two steps in equine digestion are prehension (picking up the feed) and masticating or chewing. Any change in the efficiency of these two steps has a direct effect on the efficiency of the entire digestive process. The horses digestive tract is only as efficient as these two steps. In addition loose fractured or infected teeth can cause a horse to stop eating altogether.

There are many other causes of weight loss in the horse, however the three covered above are the most common and should always be the first addressed when assessing a horse for weight loss.

Other causes of weight loss can include but are not limited to;

  • tumours
  • disease of the major organs such as the kidneys or liver
  • issues affecting hormone levels
  • chronic infection and stomach ulcers
  • inflammation of the intestine

A useful tool in evaluating and reassessing weight loss in horses is to use a body condition scoring system.

There are two main scoring systems. One system grades horses from 1 to 5 with 1 being very poor condition and 5 being obese. The other system grades horses from 1 to 9. The key difference between the two systems is the greater degree of accuracy of the 1 to 9 system.

Another tool that can help is the use of weight tapes. Although the horse owner should bear in mind that they are not always accurate. Alternatively if you are lucky you may have access to a vet or racetrack with digital scales you can use to weigh your horse.

Conditioning & Weight Loss in Horses - Keep your horse in peak condition
While discussing weight loss in horses we should also mention the dangers of a horse being overweight and too heavy.

The same health risks that apply to obese people can apply to our horses as well.

Overweight horses have increased pressure on their joints and vital organs and are at risk of metabolic syndrome, which has been identified as a cause of laminitis (inflammation of the sensitive structures connecting the hoof wall to the pedal bone).

Overweight horses require a reduced calorie intake and often have to be ridden more or regularly exercised in-hand.