EQUUS - - Eq Medical Front -

Aus­tralian re­searchers have de­vel­oped a feed­ing sys­tem that helps horses lose weight by adding ex­er­cise to meal­time.

The “dy­namic feeder” is de­signed to com­pel horses to walk con­tin­u­ously to ac­cess hay. The feeder has slid­ing doors on each side that are closed and opened al­ter­nately to al­low ac­cess to an in­ter­nal hayrack for pre­de­ter­mined pe­ri­ods of time. An elec­tronic timer closes one door while si­mul­ta­ne­ously open­ing an­other on the op­po­site side of the feeder, re­quir­ing the an­i­mal to walk around the struc­ture to ac­cess hay. A seg­ment of fence can also be put in place to in­crease the dis­tance the horse must walk to reach the open door.

To eval­u­ate the ef­fects of their sys­tem, re­searchers at the Queens­land Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy con­ducted an ex­per­i­ment us­ing eight ma­ture ponies with body con­di­tion scores be­tween 5 (mod­er­ate flesh) and 9 (obese).

For one three-month pe­riod, the ponies were fed in a pad­dock with the dy­namic feeder turned “on,” mean­ing the doors on each side were

opened and closed al­ter­nately on a five-minute cy­cle. Also, the ponies had to walk around a fence mea­sur­ing about 20 me­ters (just un­der 22 yards) to reach the open door and ac­cess the hay.

“The ponies had con­stant ac­cess to the feed­ers so were al­ways al­lowed to fin­ish their meal,” ex­plains Melody de Laat, DVM. “They used them for ap­prox­i­mately two hours twice a day, which is how long it took them, on av­er­age, to eat their meal. So about three to four hours to­tal each day.”

For a sec­ond three­month pe­riod, the ponies were fed with the dy­namic feeder turned “off,” mean­ing that the door on one side re­mained open and the ponies had con­tin­u­ous ac­cess to the hay. This en­abled the re­searchers to an­a­lyze the ef­fects of the feeder, rather than just the diet. Through­out the study, the ponies were fed 2 per­cent of their body weight in hay, along with a vi­ta­min sup­ple­ment.

In ad­di­tion, GPS track­ers were used de­ter­mine how far the ponies walked dur­ing both study pe­ri­ods, tak­ing mea­sure­ments over three 12-hour pe­ri­ods. “When the feed­ers were op­er­at­ing, the ponies on av­er­age walked about 3 to 4 kilo­me­ters per day [roughly two to 2 1/2 miles], with most of that over the fourhour feed­ing pe­riod,” says de Laat. “This may not sound like a lot but very few ponies would vol­un­tar­ily move this much through­out the day.” In­deed, when the feeder was on, the ponies walked al­most four times as far as they did when the feeder was turned off.

Mea­sure­ments taken at the start and end of each study pe­riod showed that the av­er­age BCS of the ponies de­creased from 6.53 to 5.38 when the feed­ers were in use and their cresty neck scores de­creased from 2.6 to 1.63. There was no change in ei­ther of these mea­sure­ments when horses were fed the same di­ets with the feed­ers turned off. Dy­namic feed­ing also led to a 4.95 per­cent de­crease in body fat.

The dy­namic feeder isn’t avail­able com­mer­cially, but de Laat says a com­mit­ted owner could, the­o­ret­i­cally, repli­cate these re­sults. “I be­lieve that it is the to­tal amount of ex­er­cise that may be im­por­tant, per­haps not the speed,” she says. “So pos­si­bly, longer pe­ri­ods of walk­ing may be more valu­able than a half-hour ride at a faster pace. I guess own­ers could repli­cate this sys­tem by longe­ing their ponies for longer at the walk or by tak­ing them for a walk (much like you walk the dog), but you’d have to go for three or four hours a day.”

When the feeder was on, the ponies walked al­most four times as far as they did when the feeder was turned off.

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