Equine fat busters: Owners share success stories

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With the northern hemisphere heading into spring and grass is growing, the risk of weight gain and associated health problems such as laminitis is significantly increased.
With the northern hemisphere heading into spring and grass is growing, the risk of weight gain and associated health problems such as laminitis is significantly increased. © Spillers

A British feed manufacturer is sharing the stories of two horses and their battles with weight gain in the hope it will help owners tackle their own equine weight issues.

With the northern hemisphere heading into spring and grass is growing, the risk of weight gain and associated health problems such as laminitis is significantly increased.

“We really hope these case studies will encourage owners to take action to prevent their horses from piling on the pounds this spring,” said Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at Mars Horsecare UK, home of the Spillers brand.

“Carrying excess weight means carrying increased health risks not only because of the direct weight-associated effects, but also due to the increased risk it poses for certain clinical conditions, in particular laminitis. We hope Bess and Star’s stories will resonate with horse owners and inspire them to keep their horse or pony at a healthy weight all year round.”

Bess had always been prone to a cresty neck, owner Lorna Purser says.
Bess had always been prone to a cresty neck, owner Lorna Purser says.
Bess’s story

Lorna Purser’s 15.1hh cob mare Bess was in regular work and enjoying Riding Club activities. “She has always been a good doer but although prone to a cresty neck she wasn’t fat,” explained Lorna.

Unfortunately, Bess was kicked in the field which resulted in fractured splint bones and six months of box rest over the winter. “As Bess was gradually brought back into work I noticed that she wasn’t 100% sound,” Lorna said. “Lameness investigations and steroid treatment followed. Meanwhile, Bess was doing less exercise and gaining more weight.”

The new, slimline Bess. She is on a low calorie, low starch and high fibre diet.
The new, slimline Bess. She is on a low calorie, low starch and high fibre diet.

The following winter Bess came down with laminitis. With the help of her vet and a Spillers nutritionist, Lorna immediately put Bess on a strict management plan. Initially, this involved box rest with soaked and weighed hay and a balancer. Over time, restricted grazing was introduced, her workload was increased gradually, and her bodyweight monitored weekly. Lorna now has a sharer to help keep Bess’s exercise levels high. The mare is body condition scored and weigh taped weekly and is on a low calorie, low starch and high fibre diet plus a balancer designed to supplement a restricted diet to ensure Bess is still getting the nutrients she needs.

Star’s story

In December 2018, Jane Witton’s 15hh welsh cob Star started to show signs of lameness in her front feet. “My vet diagnosed mild laminitis due to a few factors, one reason being her weight,” Jane said. “I was told to cut down the amount of sugar, starch and calories in her feeds and cut down her hay intake.”

Star had a bout of mild laminitis before embarking on a weight loss programme.
Star had a bout of mild laminitis before embarking on a weight loss programme.

After around three months of soaked hay, smaller feeds and restricted grazing, Star lost around 50kg, had recovered from the bout of laminitis, and received positive feedback from the vets.

“I continued to slim her down over the next six months,” Jane said. “When she was weighed by Spillers and body condition scored, we actually felt she was now slightly underweight – certainly safer than being overweight but she needed more energy to cope with an increase in workload.”

With advice from Spillers, Star was given a fibre and oil-based cube to provide additional energy whilst still restricting her starch and sugar intake.

After about three months of soaked hay, smaller feeds and restricted grazing, Star lost about 50kg.
After about three months of soaked hay, smaller feeds and restricted grazing, Star lost about 50kg.

“We are continuing to monitor her weight and diet to make sure we reduce the risk of her gaining weight and potentially suffering from laminitis again,” Jane said.

”My advice to owners is that sometimes being harsh is the kindest thing to do in the long term. Feed smaller amounts more often and get nutritional advice, there’s always someone willing to help.”

 

» Advice is available from the Spillers Care-Line on 01908 226626 or helpline.horsecareUK@effem.com.

More weight loss tips:

  • Turn out at night: Overnight typically grass will contain less simple sugars and fructan (Water Soluble Carbohydrate) provided the weather is warm enough for the grass to grow.
  • Beware of restricting time at grass: Ponies, in particular, may learn quickly that they need to maximise their time eating and can consume 40% of their daily intake in just 3 hours.
  • Use fewer rugs: Fewer rugs or no rugs at all will encourage a horse to burn off a few extra pounds keeping warm.
  • Try a grazing muzzle: A grazing muzzle can reduce intake by up to 80% but it must be properly fitted, allow for drinking and you must let the horse or pony get used to it before leaving it on for long periods. They should never be left on for 24 hours a day. Continue to monitor bodyweight as some horses and ponies may still gain weight while only wearing a grazing muzzle for part of their time at pasture.
  • Feed an alternative safe source of forage: For horses and ponies at very high risk of laminitis consider removing them from pasture altogether and feeding them a suitable forage or forage replacer.
  • Up the exercise: Regular exercise will help keep a horse’s waistline in check and support a healthy metabolism.
  • Keep regular track of your horse’s body condition to keep those excess kilos at bay. There are several tools available.
  • Book a free virtual visit from a Spillers nutritionist: Contact Spillers by phone or email, provide your horse’s details and your preferred method of contact such as WhatsApp or FaceTime. During your virtual meeting, a nutritionist will guide you through how to condition score your horse or pony, gather information on their current diet, exercise and management routine and help you put together the most suitable feeding plan to help them stay healthy and in shape.

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