Hoof Nutrition Intelligence Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.

Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: Is an overly fat horse more at risk for laminitis?

By Kathleen Crandell, PhD

A: Mirroring the epidemic in humans, equine obesity continues to grow at an alarming rate. Studies show that almost 50% of horses are considered overweight or obese in developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom. According to a group of Australian researchers, the prevalence of obese horses is on the rise there as well.

The research team described its experience with 10 Pony Club groups. After weighing, taking various body measurements, and assigning a body condition score (BCS) to 229 horses and ponies, the research team reported:

  • The prevalence of obesity was defined in this study as a BCS of greater than 7. The amount of obesity found in pony breeds (31%) was three times higher than in horses (9%).
  • Almost half of all included ponies were overweight or obese, with a BCS equal to or greater than 6.5. Some 86% of all Shetlands and miniature ponies fell into this category.
  •  About 40% of owners significantly underestimated their horse’s condition, indicating their horses were thinner than they actually were. Only 16% of owners overestimated body condition.

What’s wrong with a little extra padding? According to equine nutritionists, a lot.

Serious problems are associated with obesity in horses. Overweight and obese horses are at risk for developing insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and life-threatening laminitis.

In a separate research paper, the same researchers reported that 15% of the horses and ponies included in the above-described study population had been diagnosed with laminitis, and more than half of those animals reported suffering more than one bout of this disease.

Together, these studies show that owners widely perceive their horses are in moderate condition when, in reality, they are overweight or even obese, putting them at risk for major health issues.

Although controlling equine obesity may seem like a piece of cake, getting weight off a horse or pony can be challenging. Consultation with an equine nutritionist could be beneficial for many owners helping their horses lose weight.

Obesity should not be taken lightly, especially considering the risk for laminitis. Most horses that are on “slimming” rations do not require the calories provided in typical concentrates, as they tend to eat all-forage rations. While sufficient forage may supply all of the energy a horse requires, it may not fulfill all of the vitamin and mineral needs.

Kathleen Crandell is an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Ky.

Click here to read part 1 of the Feb. 1, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: How do selenium and vitamin E contribute to hoof health? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.