Obesity has become a common problem amongst horses and ponies in the UK.
An overweight horse faces serious health and fitness problems - which include a reduced life span and has an increased risk of painful conditions such as arthritis and laminitis.
Horses become overweight in exactly the same way as humans — they eat more calories than are needed for the exercise that they are doing.
The way that we look after and feed our horses and ponies often makes them gain weight and become obese.
We may feed a quiet, laid back horse more hard food in an attempt to change its character and make it more energetic and lively.
Horses and ponies that look "well" are usually overweight or even obese and therefore will feel lazy when ridden. Feeding overweight horses more energy foods to try to make them a livelier ride usually just results in the horse gaining more weight and as a result making it even lazier.
Horses that are kept stabled all day do not use up as much energy as a horse out at grass as it is standing still for most of the day.
This will cause the horse to gain weight if does not receive enough exercise. A horse at grass will use up energy walking about - although there is a tendency to gain weight if it has unlimited access to rich grazing.
Keeping a horse well rugged upto keep it warm means the horse or pony will not have to expend any energy to keep warm. This leaves more energy to turn to fat.
To prevent a horse or pony gaining too much weight you must match its calorie intake with its energy output.
To help avoid execessive weight gain in your horse you need to assess your horse on a regular basis.
It is best to do this at least every two weeks, preferably at the same time of day, as a horse's body weight will vary throughout the day. You can take photos to record the horse's condtion and compare these to previous photos. This will let you see any extra weight being gained.
It is essential for a horse's mental and physical health that it gets enough fibre when limiting calorie intake on a reduced calorie diet.
In overweight horses that easily put on weight try:
Although an overweight horse needs a restricted diet it still needs vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.
For obese horses it is recommended that an equine feed supplement or feed balancer is fed that contains the essential vitamins and minerals.