To begin, Creampuff is one of our 3 horses who gets fed every single day -- no matter what. We keep her up with two "rescue" horses who are both seniors and need to be grained twice daily (they each get four quarts per meal, she gets one) -- so does she. She also free-feeds hay, grass, gets indulged with treats (stable hands want to be closer with her and less afraid and think food is "the" way).
Recently -- with the new heat -- Cream had gone out on a ride (with an experienced customer, as always) and collapsed. I wasn't there but the trail guide reported that she "tried to get up a couple times but only ended up thrashing and flopping around." When our little "equine ambulance crew" (2 people on a 4-wheeler with rehydrating paste, water, bucket, etc,; me on another horse to give the customer to ride back) got to the "scene," she was already up and walking perfectly back to the barn with the rest of the riders. I joined in behind the ride to keep a close eye on Creamy.
I had noticed before that she's developed dapples (which I was told were called "bloom dapples," a sign of an overweight horse) on her back and hindquarters. I had noticed them last year, but they weren't as abundant. She's the heaviest, and most burly, horse at the stable of 24.
I took her into the round pen for about 15-30 minutes today and did some trotting work; change directions, stop and rest, watch me, walk with me, etc. After the exercise I just let her hang out in the round pen for a half hour, retrieved her to clean her up (she rolled after I left, lol), and then let her nom-nom some grass before putting her back on the fence. (My boss later chastised me saying that a half-hour or less work-out was "too much" for her?)
Do any of you have some fun exercises that I can do with her, outside of "basic" round penning? We have some logs (about 6-8" high) set up in a pinwheel for one of the rescue horses to bulk up, should I use those? I also know exercises for "building a brave horse" (which includes small/medium jumps, bridges, etc.), backing up (with head down) exercises. I will also be riding her during as many of them as possible.
I don't expect some magical fat-horse-cure, and I know that this process could take a long, long time. But for her health I'm willing to do so! We've given her less grain (to see if the cut-back on calories will help paired with exercise, and work her back up as she loses some of the fat) to about 3/4 of a quart. She still gets the same amount of hay (about 4 "flakes" in the evening, grass during the day).
Thank you all in advance... Creampuff will thank you, too!
Heat and humidity is about 15% worse for horses then it is for humans due to the large body mass. I would start slowly putting her into work. I would not have her jump anything for a while. Think about what would happend if a 300 LB person decided to run a marathon, or heck, even do a 5 K walk. I would have an ambulance follow them they whole way! I would limit the amount of treats the horse is getting, simply by taking them out of the barn. I know it is difficult to not give hroses treats, but again, would you give an obese person a multiple slices of cake? I would also put a muzzle on the horse. Your horse will not like it, but it does help.
I had noticed before that she's developed dapples (which I was told were called "bloom dapples," a sign of an overweight horse) on her back and hindquarters.
Would just like to point out that dapples are not really a sign of an overweight horse, the fat should be be enough to signal that. Dapples mean your horse is getting all the right things to get a beautiful, healthy coat. Most likely your horse is very healthy and overweight from all the feed she is getting. We strive to get dapples on our horses, who also maintain a healthy body weight.
There are MANY things that you can do to excersize a horse. Uphill walking/trotting is one of the best for not only loosing weight but also developing muscle. Cavalettis, round penning, basic dressage/reining (side passing, flexing, etc)...all of these things can be good. HOWEVER. They must come in steps. As wetrain17 stated, you can't just expect an obese person to run a marathon. It often takes them years to get up to full physical fitness. I don't think it will take THAT long with your mare (do you have any pictures? I'd like to see just how overweight she is. An estimate is fine, also though!)
To tell you the truth, the reason that the mare collapsed in the first place was probably because she's in poor shape and was overworked.
I'm currently working with a welsh/shetland gelding who was left in a pasture for years and just kept gaining weight. He was 700 pounds, nearly 150 pounds over what he should of been. I didn't start him out by riding him hard, or even by round penning him. I begin with just walks over uneven ground (we don't have hills in texas xD) then trotting in hand. After building up to a mile in-hand, I continued by round penning him at a trot for 20 minutes and walking for 20 minutes per day. After losing 40 pounds (and luckily once he started working, weight just began falling off of him) I started tacking him up again. (before this, he was so thick I couldn't get a saddle to sit right on him and it was unsafe) frmo there, I started walki/trotting him for twenty minutes under saddle then cantering him for three minutes at a time two to three times per session. This was almost two months into his training. Now at almost four months into our training, he has lost 87 pounds and still has a lot to go xD
All of that just to tell you that it takes a lot of time and planning to get a horse slimmed down and in shape. I'd do a lot of lively walking and engaged trotting though, with her. The more she uses her body, the stronger her muscles will become and the faster she'll lose weight. For example.this gelding, although just walking, is working twice as many muscles and this exercising just as well as...
This gelding, who is trotting unrounded- and flat.
Good luck with her though! And I'd give her nutrition some thought. Only give her what she'll burn off.
Treats are a huge indulgence. Stable hands (especially my boss, who fears her) are constantly stuffing treats her way. She's very food-motivated (I used foods when I was training her to pick up her feet; now I can simply over-exaggerate the "GOOD GIRL! -petpetpet-" and she's just as happy), so people at the barn go with that.
If I so much as touch the lunge whip she's going faster than the energizer bunny. While I was working her I didn't want her to canter (I would block her eye and change her direction if she did!), and she went "All Go, No Whoa." Even when I looked away (at the ground, passive posture), if I had that whip in my hands it was go-go-go. I had to lay it on the ground and step away before she would even consider stopping.
Our veterinarian suggested Cavalettis for another horse (who is slightly overweight himself, but needs it for muscle tones). I plan to use trotting poles (small poles on the ground a few feet apart, which makes the horse put their head down and think about their feet a little more?), walk-trot work (also under saddle), and other groundwork so far.
Even with our one round-pen session, I noticed Creamy is a lot more responsive... When I whistle, she'll look, take a bite-to-go of grass, and come. (There have been many times after an accident last year where she won't even look!) It's my personal belief that she has trust issues; she has done nothing to prove me otherwise.
About the accident: Last summer, two boys were going to drain our water trough, and used one of the big black tubes (kinda like plastic, about 6" round) -- as they passed her, she freaked, pulled back, and ripped a chunk of her cheek almost off (also ruining one halter). I was there as it happened (my back was turned and I hear wood crackling and turned around to see her pulling back so hard she was practically sitting.) I was also the only one of the three who moved to catch the now halter-less horse. The result was 30 stitches... she wasn't the same -- not as affectionate --after that. So she's finally being more respectful/affectionate, which I'm hoping will work out in her favor even now. (My boss has wanted to sell her, but it's been my faith and training with her that's saved her from being shipped off!)
Also, I do have pictures. (:
March 2011: (Equip with winter fuzzies!)
May 17 (Bottom)
Here you can even see the dapples I referred to. I'll try to get some more shots (conformational, basically) of her tomorrow and post those up!
About when she went down:
It was the only ride she went out on (she gets barn-sour sometimes and will rear and spin around, so we only let experienced riders ride her). I had offered her a drink before we mounted up and she didn't take one. I'm not sure if the trail guide allowed trotting, but when I saw her from my "ambulance horse," she was extremely sweaty (as if she just ran a few miles) and slightly lathered up. She had two cuts on her hind legs (inside, on the stockings); one of which has already healed. The trail guide was able to get her saddle off, eventually get her back up, and re-saddle her; the customer mounted back up and rode her back to the barn. (I'd have walked her in-hand back if I had the choice.)
Its good that she seems to respond eagerly. I'm thinking that maybe you should do some rope/whip desensatising with her though, just in case the reason she's moving out so quickly when you so much as flick the rope is because she has a fear of it. You don't want a horse that is afraid if ropes ^_^
As far as collapsing though... has she been checked by a vet? That sounds really suspicious to me. If she hadn't done more than a walk/trot, and that was her only ride of the day- she shouldn't of even been sweating like that, much less collapsed. Even if she is fat. And how long ago was this? Sometimes sweating and acting overexerted can be one of the first signs of strangles, as well as some other sicknesses. I'd see if the BO will get her check out, if at all possible
I'm going to talk to our veterinarian when she comes to see a gelding's teeth (she had told us they need floated but forgot, and is going to do a "free check up" to refresh her memory). Where she stands is where she stands, outside of when she's penned to eat. The spot she's in is very sunny...
I actually enjoy her "thickness." I'm starting to think it's a lot less fault of "fat" as it is being "out of shape" (she was only worked once or twice this winter, but ridden all last summer). She's our heaviest horse at 1,003 pounds (last year), but not our tallest (she's 15.2 hh). She's one of our handful of American Quarter horses, but the thickest; and I love it.
Today all she did was stand, but it was well into the 90's (it was 95*F at 5 PM here), which caused her to sweat up a storm. We re-discovered some electrolytes that I gave to her, which did seem to help her out. (Her sweat cleared up and she perked up a little more.) We've also taken extra precautions and given all of the horses that stand tied a water bucket, filling each bucket about 4 times during the working hours (9 am - 4 pm), as well as drinks before/after they eat.
The heat itself is a beast. It went from 40's one day to high 90's the next... and then it constantly changes in between. We're exhausted and unmotivated, the horses are hot and sweaty, etc. I forced Ben some time off today because he was covered in sweat (eating in the pen). About 15 minutes after I removed the saddle, he was fine and perky again.
So long as it's not blistering hot again tomorrow, I'll be working with Cream in the round pen (walk 5 minutes, trot 2, walk 10, trot 4, etc.) and eventually back out on the trail. If I don't get her back out there, she may become barn sour again (a problem she had last year, causing her to almost be sold again when she threw out my boss's back doing her famous rear-and-spin). I'll keep you guys updated on her progress and also try to get my hands on some pictures of her work!