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Are you one the many UK horse owners who are approaching the spring months with a level of caution? Do the next few months mean closely monitoring your equine friend for weight gain and laminitis? To help you during these coming months we've pulled together some top tips and useful information for managing your horse's weight and reducing the risk of laminitis.
Monitor Weight Gain
We recommend that you monitor your horse's weight and fat score on a fortnightly basis as it is often difficult to notice changes when you see your horse every day. Use your Dodson & Horrell weigh tape to record your horse's weight and at the same time fat score your horse using our Right Weight Record Card. Try to keep your horse below a level of 3.7 during the spring and summer months. Click here to download a PDF of your Right Weight Record Card
Of course not all horses need to lose weight and you may be monitoring your horse's weight in order to promote weight gain and condition. If this is the case then please contact our Nutritional Helpline on 0845 345 2627 for advice on feeding and management.
Laminitis - Minimise the Risks
Watching what you feed your horse or pony isn't enough on its own to minimise the risk of the life threatening disease of laminitis; you have to make lifestyle changes too… preventing laminitis is a way of life.
In fact we now know that it isn't just what you feed today or tomorrow that increases the risk but what you have been feeding over a long period of time. Diabetes has recently been diagnosed in the horse and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is very similar to its human equivalent
If your horse is comfortably cuddly for several years, his metabolism will start to change and he will lay down metabolically active fat. This metabolically active fat increases his risk of becoming insulin resistant. Insulin resistance increase the risk of laminitis as it prevents glucose being taken up by the lamellae and eventually they become weakened. Weak lamellae cannot hold up the pedal bone within the hoof.
Click here to download a PDF of your Nutritional Guide to Laminitis
Our Top Tips for Weight Management and Minimising the Risks of Laminitis
- Horses and ponies don't get fat on 'fresh air'; they get fat on grass; most horses resting, retired or in light work will consume excess calories just from grazing. Ignore the traditional advice of 1 horse per acre and instead overgraze the paddock with a minimum of 3–4 horses/acre, (make sure you pick up droppings and pull ragwort). You will be surprised just how little grass cover is needed to maintain weight on your horse.
- Mow your paddock; if you cannot 'overgraze' your grass with other horses, keep it cut; think how often the garden lawn needs cutting, your horse is consuming all this!
- Consider a muzzle; restricting grazing by increasing stable time will not help your horse, as standing in a stable uses considerably less calories compared to the number that can be used up by moving around the field. By using a muzzle your horse can still be out grazing and moving around but at the same time will be getting limited grass.
- Leave that rug off; horses use 80% of their feed energy to keep warm. Insulating him with a warm, snug rug will just mean that any extra calories that are not utilised trying to keep warm will go on their back as fat. Although it seems tough, using no rug or a lighter rug can help in managing weight.
- Increase the amount of work he does – arrange for someone else to ride if you don't have time – even 30 minutes of brisk walk a day can really make a difference. Remember that steady but active walking burns up more fat than trotting or canter work. His heart rate should be 80 bpm, whilst he is doing active walk; this can be checked with a heart rate monitor.
- Increase the amount of exercise he does when you're not there. Yes, your horse can do exercise without you being there and in doing so use more calories. Simply use some electric fencing and rather than strip grazing, put the fence in a u shape around the field so you are encouraging him to use more of the field. If possible position water at the other end of the field from the gate so he has to walk further to get to it.
- Reduce calories not bulk; all horses should eat a minimum of 2.5% of their bodyweight as food, (includes hay, chaff, and bucket feed, i.e. ANYTHING he consumes!) Restricting intake to less will not help with weight control and means that your horse is at greater risk of developing gastric ulcers, stereotypy behaviour, colic, or dental problems. You need to consider the calories your feed is providing.
- If you are restricting your horse's grass intake then feed him a low calorie, high fibre feed that is balanced in vitamins and minerals to extend the amount of time he is chewing. These are usually formulated to be fed at 500g/100kgBW and should contain extra anti–oxidants.
- Soak hay for 12hrs; this removes most of the nutrition especially the calories, making it the horse equivalent of celery. You can then feed 'adlib' satisfying the horse's need for trickle feeding BUT make sure you add the vitamins and minerals back in by using one of these suggested products Ultimate Balancer, Daily Vits & Mins or EquiBites.
- Weigh out feed; it might be tedious but weigh the feed you are giving, so you know exactly how much you are feeding and that you are following the guidelines provided. Either find a scoop that holds exactly the weight of feed required, or mark up an existing scoop, so that you are not tempted to give a little extra.
- Make sure that the diet is balanced in terms of vitamins, minerals and protein so that he is getting all the nutrients he needs to be healthy. If your horse has plenty of low calorie fibre, then ultimately you must balance his diet by feeding a low intake low calorie, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant balancer; usually formulated to be fed at 100g/100kgBW.
- Remember a fat horse is in poor condition as he isn't fit for purpose.
If you have any concerns about feeding or are worried about the threat of laminitis call our friendly expert team on 0845 345 2627.