Any tips for overweight horses? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 07-14-2020, 10:15 PM Thread Starter
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Any tips for overweight horses?

My 14 year old paint Cash has recently gotten to be a bit overweight. When I first got him two months ago, he was mildly overweight but it wasn't bad, but once I brought him home he lost a lot of it due to his anxiety and stress. Now that he is over his anxiety and stress, now having another horse with him, he gained all of it and more back. I give him a bit of grain in the morning before I take him out of his stall and turn him out all day, bring him back inside once it's dark, and give him a little bit more grain. In the photo attached is a picture of him this evening just as a visual. I ride him a bit but nothing too much, about 2-4 times a week with nothing too overworking. Is there anything I can do to help him lose a bit of his weight? I've heard some say limit turn out time, use a grazing muzzle, and/or ride and lunge them a lot, but I would really appreciate any other opinions. Any recommendations, tips, or notices would be awesome! Thank you!
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post #2 of 10 Old 07-14-2020, 10:33 PM
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He doesn't seem to overweight, just underworked- with a bit of a hay belly. Promoting more movement in pasture is always a good start, and you can do so in very small ways or very large ways depending on your situation, finances, etc. I'll share some of the tricks I have up my sleeve managing a few senior arthritic horses and a laminitis prone horse, as well as a very "fluffy" pony and a draft cross prone to obesity in a bit!
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post #3 of 10 Old 07-14-2020, 11:00 PM
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He doesn't look terribly overweight to me either. He could use some toning up. Can you ride him on a regular basis? That would change his shape quite a bit.
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post #4 of 10 Old 07-14-2020, 11:29 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by WhattaTroublemaker View Post
He doesn't seem to overweight, just underworked- with a bit of a hay belly. Promoting more movement in pasture is always a good start, and you can do so in very small ways or very large ways depending on your situation, finances, etc. I'll share some of the tricks I have up my sleeve managing a few senior arthritic horses and a laminitis prone horse, as well as a very "fluffy" pony and a draft cross prone to obesity in a bit!
Thank you so much for the information!
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post #5 of 10 Old 07-14-2020, 11:31 PM Thread Starter
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He doesn't look terribly overweight to me either. He could use some toning up. Can you ride him on a regular basis? That would change his shape quite a bit.
I can. I don't ride at a barn and have both of my horses at my place, so riding him on a regular basis wouldn't be too difficult. How often do you think I should ride him per week and for how long?
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post #6 of 10 Old 07-15-2020, 12:03 AM
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So, in terms of pasture management, I'll explain my current set up and how I promote movement, and ways it could work for other set ups.

I have a 77 acre pasture of mixed terrain, which in itself is a blessing- but my herd of five is mostly oldies who don't want to move much and they don't utilize the pasture much. My preferred set up would be a rotational track system with multiple "feeding stations" and points to reach water that promoted them to move as much as possible and forces them to "walk the track" and utilize as much ground cover as possible, to get where they wanted to go- whether it be water, hay, shelter or grazing areas. I unfortunately don't have the funds to cover my entire 77 acres with fencing, plus one of mine is blind, so I do a few things differently.

I know my herd, so I rotate who goes out with who once in awhile, even though they all go out together the majority of the time. I use these strategic pairings to let my horses natural personalities and pecking order do most of the work for me. My laminitic gelding will go out with the feisty, playful pony a couple days a week, this gives the pony no one else to bother but my gelding, so he's always picking and playing, and they end up running around a lot. He then goes out with my "mean" mare with about 20 tiny piles of hay spread around a large area. Using my mares natural nastiness, she has no one else to chase off the hay but him, and they move quite a bit from pile to pile as she "claims" each pile as her own. He never goes hungry however, as there are plenty of piles to grab some bites from before she comes over and moves him off. This allows the other members of the herd to be pestered by the pony more at the same time, so they get some play/bug off run time and movement in. My old grey mare goes on a single pile with my fat on air gelding, who is naturally inclined to push others off feed, but she's the big boss hoss, so she puts him in his place, moves him far away and makes him wait patiently while she eats her fill. She's very fair, and when she's done she will allow him in to eat.

She also goes out with my young adventurous gelding, and I use her extreme herd boundness to my advantage, knowing he will routinely go on big journeys across the pasture to explore and she will 100% follow along since she has no other lazy herd mates to just stand around with while he's off doing his thing. They maintain a pretty good self trimming cycle this way too.

I will say, I've been observing my herd and their dynamics extensively over the course of nearly 20 years, so I pretty much have this down to a science lol!

I also try to position my hay piles beyond natural obstacles that force them to take the long way around to get to their hay. It's a bit harder than just dumping hay over the fence, but it works.

Sometimes I will empty the main water trough and haul an atv trailer full of 5 gallon pails of water out into the woods, across the fields and secure them out there, forcing them to "search for water" when they find their trough empty. Over the last few years I have established designated bucket areas where I place the water and decide to play mother nature and dump the main water trough, creating a man made "drought" that forces them to move further to go get water vs standing around the house where it magically flows from the tap.

If I had a smaller pasture or field area, I would just place water buckets at the furthest end, in multiple spots every now and then, which would make them go and find it "elsewhere" even if it's not far. If all were thirsty at once, the head herd member would drink first with the others in tow, then the others would find the bucket empty, and be forced to move onto the second bucket, then the third, etc, until everyone had their fill, and if only one was thirsty, there's a good chance the others would follow, or they would go to an empty bucket and have to make their rounds looking for the full one- this alone would create much, much more movement in the herd rather than them all standing around the water trough waiting for the other to finish, or lazily wandering a few steps one at a time to an always full water bucket (I always make sure to place enough buckets that everyone has enough water, and make sure I have the time to check them throughout the day to assure they never all go empty at once for long.)

Since I couldn't ride my gelding, who needs a constant, moderate amount of exercise to stay healthy, I simply started hand walking him wherever I went. If I was walking to the far side of the pasture to throw hay or gather buckets, I would keep his halter hanging on a post and just halter him up and bring him along. If I was going to go for coffee at my neighbours, I would halter him, walk him down with me, tie him outside and bring him back when I went. Going for a jog? Bring him along! Taking the quad out to check fences? I'd pony him and bring him with me. It also did wonders for him training wise. He basically had a "job" to be my wide eyed assistant wherever I went, and enjoyed it. He never developed issues being caught because he never really knew what we were going to do when the halter came out- could be a trip to the barn for a soaked hay cube with supplements, could be a walk to the apple tree, could be hanging with me reading a book in the back field, or it could be dreaded vaccine time- he never knew, so he was always curious to come along.

When he started putting on weight during a particularly lush summer I started lunging him all around the property for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes we would do flat work in the field, sometimes I'd set up poles, sometimes I'd walk him down the road to a steep ditch and lunge him up and down that. He also packed game out of the woods for me when my father and I started running a trap line. It got him exercise and was cheaper on gas than the bike, not to mention wonderful experience for a young horse! Out in the woods, all kinds of terrifying new animal smells. Eventually I could whistle and he would come running, and would come along without a halter because he enjoyed having a job, no matter how small, senseless and simple- he liked having something to do that he knew how to do, and knew exactly what was expected of him, even if it was just following us through the brush and woods carrying dead animals

I started packing kids on him in the winter time when they wanted to walk to their friends house down the road. It was cold and I would halter him up, throw them on and lead him down there, pile them off and head home. At night we would go back, load them on and carry them home. They like his warm fur and he liked their smells of candy and juice, and he got some exercise to boot.

I noticed than even with very subtle, small things, that to me seemed like not exercise at all, provided great benefits. And in truth it wasn't much exercise in horse standards, but it was movement. And movement is what keeps a healthy horse!
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post #7 of 10 Old 07-15-2020, 12:16 AM
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Not to mention the wonderful training opportunities it presented us. If he had holes or issues I had no choice but to deal with them then and there, and he got over them fast. He was never herd bound because we did so many things, no matter how small, he never dreaded working because I never got to the point where every time I caught him it was a long ride, or hard work. He learned my ways and I learned his, we became very, very close partners and I fully believe it made him into the bombproof, never phased, open minded horse he is, with a great attitude toward working and an infinite amount of try in him. Not to mention it was easier to deal with his issues on the ground than it was in the saddle, so by the time we actually started doing any saddle work he knew how I asked things of him, and I knew how he reacted to environmental stressors, new things, scary things, and how he told me when he didn't know what I was asking him to do!
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post #8 of 10 Old 07-15-2020, 04:53 AM
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I think when people are saying 'he doesn't look too overweight' it's because the horse isn't obviously obese in that one pic. He's not obese, but I don't believe you can really say from that one pic, whether he's 'not very overweight' accurately.

Anyway... I would quit feeding grain, last week. Grain is not great for horses anyway, It is high NSC, high calorie feed, so like 'junk food' for horses. Like saying 'I don't know how to get my kid to lose weight - she only has mc donalds twice a day...'.

And can you leave your horse out, rather than locking him up for half the day? Not that horses always get much exercise out in a paddock, but WhattaTrouble has given some ideas for boosting that, along with ideas for a track system, which is a great idea, if you can manage.

But you said it wouldn't be difficult to give him more exercise - that would be really helpful. Ensuring the horse gets a couple good long walks, if not trotting, per day will really help burn some calories.
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post #9 of 10 Old 07-15-2020, 05:16 AM
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Originally Posted by loosie View Post
I think when people are saying 'he doesn't look too overweight' it's because the horse isn't obviously obese in that one pic. He's not obese, but I don't believe you can really say from that one pic, whether he's 'not very overweight' accurately.

Anyway... I would quit feeding grain, last week. Grain is not great for horses anyway, It is high NSC, high calorie feed, so like 'junk food' for horses. Like saying 'I don't know how to get my kid to lose weight - she only has mc donalds twice a day...'.

And can you leave your horse out, rather than locking him up for half the day? Not that horses always get much exercise out in a paddock, but WhattaTrouble has given some ideas for boosting that, along with ideas for a track system, which is a great idea, if you can manage.

But you said it wouldn't be difficult to give him more exercise - that would be really helpful. Ensuring the horse gets a couple good long walks, if not trotting, per day will really help burn some calories.
All of the above! Reducing intake of hard feed is step one in reducing weight, like Loosie said it's the equivalent of cutting out fast food or perhaps carbs in your own diet. The only time a horse really needs "fast food" or "carbs" is when the horses work load is heavy enough that the energy gained through a simple, forage based diet can't keep up with the energy burned through exercise. The KISS (keep it simple stupid) rule to any weight loss for any species is very simple, burn more calories than are consumed. So if a horse is getting light work, he needs a lighter diet.
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post #10 of 10 Old 07-15-2020, 06:17 AM
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If you are already riding two to four times a week nothing to strenuous I would up the distance or up the pace. Try to keep it at four times per week. If you have the time for two hours a day that would be great. Up the speed or distance one at a time. Two hours a day of walking, and a lot of trotting, with a little canter here and there would probably do it.

Loosie is right, he's not obese but he does have plenty of padding on his ribs. If he's like my mare, who has a similar way of gaining weight, as soon as you start reducing his calories you will start seeing his spine even though he wouldn't be underweight. To prevent that he will need to build muscle.

I would definitely cut the grain too. Maybe give him a ration balancer or vitamin/mineral supplement in the place of grain to ensure that he gets what he needs nutrition wise.
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