Feeding and Managing the Overweight or Metabolic Equine
"I hope you put him on a dry lot!"
Well actually we hope you did not.
Putting a horse that looks like this on a dry lot used to be the conventional wisdom and the accepted practice. But veterinarians were puzzled because a good amount of horses, even dry lotted with a very diligent owner, still remained very overweight or even went on to have more laminitic episodes.
Studying the obese pony became quite the mission over in the UK and they really have learned some very useful things.
Thanks to the observances of our english horse loving friends, we now know that dry-lotting a horse without something to nibble on all day long sometimes makes their bodies think a starvation time must be coming. The metabolic system converts itself to preparing for that by absolutely hoarding everything it can. (I know this isn't a terribly scientific explanation but this is for everyone to learn from). And then when you feed Fluffy his one flake of hay twice per day, boy does his system really make use of that!
Additionally what people called a dry lot sometimes actually had weeds and those had starch or were high in iron. The hungry horses were eating them and the owners thought things were good because there was no grass.
This perfectly explains why a percentage of dry-lotted horses were often still having problems. It ALSO explains why ulcers in horses are becoming more and more common. A horse stomach was not designed to sit empty with all of those gastric juices working on nothing.
SO THEN, what is the answer? Well the very best answer is the track system which is becoming ever more popular across the pond. Not only is it better for the horse's girlish figure, but it is better for their mental stimulation and for promoting healthy hooves. Many studies have proven out the theory that horses will move more per day on a track system. (Though there is a lot of variability in the results) We hope one day that we will be able to implement a track system at our main facility, Mulligan Farm.
The next best thing can be a grazing muzzle out on a smaller pasture (but Some horses cannot even have 40 blades of grass). We totally get that those darn things can be super hard to keep on your horse though. We have struggled with them ourselves. Owners have to get creative to keep them on and/or keep them from creating a rub.
The next best thing can be to hang very slow (and VERY durable) slow feeding hay nets around your dry lot. In this way the horse does not ever perceive that a starvation time might be on the horizon. It just has to work super duper hard to get a bite. As long as it's body knows food is present and that it can indeed get some, the metabolic system does not get out of whack. Now a few caveats...
You must make sure that the way you hang your slow feeding hay nets is safe. If your horse has shoes and he paws in frustration he will get hung up in that thing and that is no good-trust me. Even a non shod horse can get hung in a hay bag if it tries. (and we all know horses try to maim themselves regularly) If you think this may happen a good solution is to hang the hay bag up at nose level in such a way that it can swing. A swinging hay net serves as a good way to slow a greedy pony down also, as an added bonus. Or you could invest in building a slow feeder box.
The trick here is to slow the chubby buddy down enough that there is food available at almost any time, he just has to work his butt off to get it.
Soaking the hay for quite a while and then making sure the horse does not get to drink the soaking water will also cut down on a bunch of the sugar that the hay contains. For exceptionally obese ones we recommend soaking the hay then loading it into slow feeding hay nets.
The track system idea is something we sure hope will catch on. They really are quite great for strengthening the foot of the horse, encouraging movement, and enriching the mind!
All horses should have access to appropriate mineral supplementation. This means at the very least a salt block and a container of high quality, loose minerals with no molasses. One thing to keep in mind is that horses kept off of grass often are found to be short in Vitamin E, which is important for various functions. Horses fed solely hay as forage may require a look at whether any supplementation is providing the necessary amount.
Credit for this article belongs to Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue INC