Winter weight - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 03:24 PM Thread Starter
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Winter weight

I sort of raised this question over the winter when Teddy was looking a little underweight. I've also seen the issue come up on other threads, but I'd really like to have an open discussion of this question: is it OK for a horse to drop weight in the winter (assuming they aren't actually malnourished) or is it better to try to keep their weight steady?

I'm particularly interested because it was @loosie (I think?) who said in another thread that losing weight in the winter helps with insulin resistance (correct me if I'm wrong). I wanted to ask at that time what evidence there is for that, but I didn't want to change the thread topic. I have one fattie, one easy keeper, and Teddy, who is half Welsh and half QH, and I'm thinking that after I get his teeth all fixed up he might actually turn into an easy keeper too. So insulin resistance is always on my mind.

I'm wondering if anyone can point me to a study that would answer this question or at least tackle it.
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post #2 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 03:40 PM
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My understanding is that unless it is extreme it is part of a natural process and is healthy. Same as the weight gain in the spring and fall.
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post #3 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 04:17 PM
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Think if they are over weight long term it's not good or healthy. As long as they don't get to a real low body score I think weight loss is fine. As long as they aren't going hungry and without food for many hours a day.

Currently my horse's are having a hard season. Out of hay and pasture is short. So having to work hard to find grass to eat. Hay guy has yet to deliver our hay..very frustrating.
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post #4 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 05:42 PM
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When my horse was in California, in an area where the winter lows were in the low 40's, she did not drop any weight in the winter nor did she gain any in the fall. Now in Massachusetts, where last winter the low lows were about 25 below zero (though a typical night was more like 5 below), she got thinner than I had ever seen her, despite having a heavy turnout blanket and all the hay in the world. Definitely looking at her ribs. I ended up supplementing with hot mash twice a day (it was something called "hay extender", not a very high-octane feed) and she came out of winter at a good weight, right at the 5 on the Henneke scale (she is more usually a 7) .

Myself, I would prefer a horse to go into a cold winter with a little padding, because they will need to burn it to keep warm. In cold climates horses naturally work at accumulating some extra groceries in the fall. I would want them to be no worse than a 4 when spring arrives. Thinner is poor management in my view.

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post #5 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
I'm particularly interested because it was @loosie (I think?) who said in another thread that losing weight in the winter helps with insulin resistance (correct me if I'm wrong).
Here's the thing: weight loss at any time helps with insulin resistance. That's because having excess fat cells leads to insulin resistance.
Since you requested studies, here's a quote from a research paper:
...Obesity is the main known risk factor for EMS...when adipose stores are high, a combination of local and remote inflammation, dysregulated local glucocorticoid metabolism, oxidative damage, lipid overspill and alterations in the release and action of adipokines combine to impair insulin signalling within fat and muscle such that organism-wide insulin resistance develops...

My take on this is that if you have an overweight horse, having them lose weight in the winter if that's the only time you can manage it will be helpful. However, I don't take that to mean that a horse of a healthy weight will benefit by getting underweight in the winter. What I do see is that people justify horses getting too thin in the winter by saying it is natural. Usually it is a management problem. Sometimes those problems are difficult for us to control, but still, it you took the horse into another situation, it would not happen.

Horses will have some weight fluctuation no matter what we do. In my opinion, keeping that to a minimum is healthiest for the horse, just like it is with humans and other animals.

We can't assume that what happens with wild horses is the healthiest or best, since they often have quite short lifespans compared to our domestic horses. You can find many photos online of wild horses in the winter where they all look like they are at healthy weights. If they are thin on some ranges, it might be that is due to the condition of the land or issues of extra stress in individual herds.

My goal is to keep a horse at a good weight all the time. I believe it is equally bad to let a horse get obese in the spring as it is to get thin in the winter. What I'd like is for a horse to be able to handle hard workouts all year. If the horse is thin already, you have to worry about them losing weight if you add work. Even if a horse is older and retired, what if they get ill? It's better to have a cushion to work with rather than having them already thin. But also the older horse does not need the stress of extra weight on their joints at any time of year.
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post #6 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 06:25 PM
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Just like in humans a optimum weight for the frame and exercise daily done is important, our animals are the same.
Animals are no different, and no I don't agree that bouncing around the weight scale is good for the body...
Being fit and trim is what is needed and striven for.
Fat is unhealthy...
Skinny or "thin" is also unhealthy...
The body can best work when it not fluctuate all over the scale...

I'm not for my horses to go up and down the weight scale...
I work really hard to keep my horses at a safe weight year-round.
We don't get plump and fat in summer and bone frame seen thin in winter..
We keep our horses as consistent as possible year-round.
For some that is easily done, for others I tweak the food fed to supply what they need to stay a small range of weight fluctuation.
I blanket to help my horses not have to burn so many calories to stay warm.
I sheet against rain so they not shiver in cold...
I also sheet for reduction of flies aggravating my horses or if to hot they get doused in fly spray.
Yup, I admit horses are pampered.
I try to make their life as comfortable as possible.
They cart my carcass around and keep me safe...
I feed them to the best of my ability that they look thriving with health 365 days a year!
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post #7 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by horselovinguy View Post
We don't get plump and fat in summer and bone frame seen thin in winter..
No. 'we' don't, because we all live a pampered, rather unnatural life these days. 'We' for the most part - certainly 'we' who can afford to waste time & money on horses as recreation on this forum, don't really know the meaning of 'hard seasons'. We have lost so much connection with the natural world. And people have a very... subjective view about 'too fat' or 'too skinny' too.

Yes, generally speaking, I agree that reasonable, healthy condition all year round is neither too fat or too skinny. That being significantly underweight is not healthy either. But if you/your horse/your dog is at all over weight, esp if it's chronic, then fasting(for us) or having 'hard seasons' to use up the fat stores, getting on the thin side(not meaning emaciated or close) is a good thing.

IOW, while it is ideal to be an ideal weight, we can stand to put on extra lbs or lose extra lbs at different times and it's not terribly detrimental for our health and can be actually good for us, if we're losing the extra groceries on a regular basis.

As for studies, can't name any ATM sorry, but all 'real' studies I've seen have been on humans. Seen a lot of articles & 'experts' surmising that the same applies for horses & dogs, which makes sense. Just can't honestly say I've seen any scientific trials on horses specifically. There is also evidence that fasting, regardless whether you're overweight or not, is good for the metabolism, but also for immune system, healing & other stuff.
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Some info I've found helpful; [COLOR=Lime][B]
For taking critique pics; [COLOR=Lime][B]
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post #8 of 12 Old 08-23-2019, 08:11 PM
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I'm certainly not talking about excessive swings either. I like to see mine lean. I want a little padding on top of the little they have after summer going into winter so they can have that store from fall as an "in the event" but then when spring rolls around they are working more and I may tweak feed but because of good grass coming in it is typically to drop off. When the rye goes out in a timely manner I still may not be tweaking feed except to keep it moderate instead of adding. They have free access to hay when the pasture is poor. Typically for us that is 8 to 12 weeks when rye is coming on or in times of severe drought when there is little to no pasture. They aren't underweight and they are fit. We aren't changing from a 3 to a 5 or from a 5 to a 7. I have some that do best 4/5 and some that do better 5/6. Some we are maybe talking just a half scale from a low 5 to an upper 5.
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post #9 of 12 Old 08-24-2019, 02:31 PM
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I don't mind if mine lose a little weight in the winter, but I don't want them ribby and struggling to keep enough weight on to stay warm. Usually ours go into the winter a bit on the plump side, and by March they're a shade thin, then by the time the grass comes in mid-April they're sleek and in great condition.
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post #10 of 12 Old 08-24-2019, 07:07 PM
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It was on here that I learned to get a weight tape -.- Or any tape. Coz I'm rubbish at telling and by the time it's noticeable I was pretty shocked at HOW much she had lost last summer, because the fields were overgrazed and she was out 24/7 for a fair bit with no extra hay or feeds. She was OK and thankfully the instructor looked after me and suggested what to do - zero problem since then as that was my first lesson on what to watch! I was expecting a winter problem not a summer one but here's to learning eh? So get a tape! I check weekly (when I can -.-) and just dot it in my calendar along with any vet weigh-ins. The saddle fit also told me before my eye could as well. And with most domestic animal try to minimise weight fluctuations. We're not trying to induce hibernation here, although that would be a funny sight! :P
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