Many domestic animals and people are overweight and horses are no different. However, a recent study mentioned in The Horse magazine indicated that most people do not see their horses as overweight even if that is the case. The Swiss study involved 51 leisure horses.
The researchers visited the horses and owners at their homes and asked about the horses’ weight. They were asked to rate their horse on a scale from 1-6 with 6 being obese, and the researchers used the same scale. There was a notable discrepancy between the owners’ and researchers’ scores as over 27% of the horses were overweight and had a score of at least 5. However, none of the horse owners scored their horses higher than a 5 so the owners underestimated the body condition of their horses.
One interesting side note was that the body condition of the owner had no correlation to the body condition of the horses, as thinner people had just as many overweight horses as did overweight people. It was found that some breeds were more genetically susceptible to being overweight and are easy keepers by using food more efficiently. Of course, we have to realize this is an issue with some breeds and watch their diets more closely. For this reason, it is important for your vet to perform a twice yearly exam on your horse.
The number one concern with obesity in horses is laminitis and founder, which are much easier conditions to prevent than to treat, so if your horse is overweight you can take steps to decrease the weight before symptoms occur. Your vet can give you recommendations for feeding and exercise but basically, if your horses are overweight, take them off pasture and feed a diet consisting of less than 10% nonstructural carbohydrates, which are basically simple sugars such as grains, green grass, and high-carb hays (hay can be tested for nonstructured carbohydrate levels).