EQUUS - - Eq In Brief -

Obe­sity often comes with a lack of fit­ness, but it also counts as its own arthri­tis risk fac­tor. The ex­tra weight that the joints of an over­weight horse must bear with each step mul­ti­plies the stresses re­lated to any ac­tiv­ity. Con­sider the ten­dency of draft horses to de­velop the arthritic con­di­tions sidebone and ring­bone; the sheer size of these horses makes them sus­cep­ti­ble, even if they are not over­weight. And the more years a horse spends car­ry­ing ex­cess weight, the more dam­age is done; it’s never too late in life to try to re­duce a horse’s weight.

An easy-keeper might be rid­den reg­u­larly but still carry ex­tra weight. In that case, you need to cut back on the calo­ries he takes in each day. Don’t give in to the feel­ing you “need” to feed an ac­tive horse a high-calo­rie feed. Good-qual­ity hay alone can pro­vide enough nu­tri­tion for many horses. If you can’t find good-qual­ity hay, or can’t over­come the feel­ing you must pro­vide some­thing in your horse’s feed tub each evening, look for a “bal­ancer” pel­let that pro­vides nu­tri­tion without the un­needed calo­ries. Also, con­sider fit­ting your horse with a graz­ing muz­zle when pas­tures are lush. As you cut back on calo­ries, keep him ac­tive and mon­i­tor his weight. If he loses too much, you’ll want to tweak the for­mula.

An out-of-shape, obese horse poses a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge. In ad­di­tion to di­etary changes, you’ll also need to in­crease his ac­tiv­ity to re­duce his weight, but too much work too soon can lead to stresses or in­jury that in­crease the risk of arthri­tis. Con­sult with a trusted trainer and/or your vet­eri­nar­ian to de­vise a pro­gres­sive con­di­tion­ing pro­gram and diet plan that makes sense given your horse’s situation and lim­i­ta­tions. Then, as you watch for changes in his weight, also keep an eye out for signs that you’re push­ing the ex­er­cise pro­gram too hard.

Atouch of arthri­tis isn’t go­ing to ruin your horse’s golden years, but early-on­set or de­bil­i­tat­ing changes in joint health can be dev­as­tat­ing. Look­ing to your horse’s past and cur­rent ex­pe­ri­ences can help you de­ter­mine if you’re likely to be fac­ing that chal­lenge as well as pro­vide some clues as to how you might be able man­age or even al­ter what the fu­ture holds for his joints.

The longer a horse is obese, the more dam­age is done; it’s never too late in life to try to re­duce a horse’s weight.

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