Spillers’ equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how to manage feeding an overweight horse or pony
Q: Overweight pony: “I am literally at my wits end. I have a six-year-old, 14.3hh Connemara mare that I have had since she was two. When I bought her, she was on the round side, and I thought this was due to her having been out with unlimited grazing. However, having now had her for four years, I now realise that she has a serious problem! She goes out for approximately eight hours a day with a grazing muzzle on at all times. She is exercised every day (either ridden or lunged, perhaps with one day off a week). She has 6kg of soaked hay a day and one small handful of Happy Hoof a day, just to make her feel as though she has had something when the others are fed. I only use Baileys high fibre nuggets for treats, and she is not unfit. She is still massive. I am almost embarrassed to take her anywhere in public as I am sure people are judging me for over-feeding her. I even had someone I know stop me in the road when I was riding commenting how fat she is. What advice do you have please?”
A: I feel for you as slimming an overweight pony down can be challenging and it sounds like you have really been trying. But unfortunately if your mare is still not losing weight, she is still consuming too many calories.
It’s actually amazing how much dedicated ponies can consume even with a grazing muzzle on, meaning you may have to take more drastic action.
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This may require controlling all the calories your pony consumes, turning out in a bare paddock and replacing the grass with soaked hay.
Look for the lowest calorie hay you can or consider mixing in some clean straw to further reduce its energy. With regards to the amount don’t reduce her fibre intake below 15/grams (dry matter) per kilo bodyweight per day. As a guide this is approximately 8kg of hay for a 450kg pony.
Gut fill can reduce significantly during the first week so it’s best to take a starting weight at the beginning of week two. If you don’t have access to a weighbridge use a weigh-tape or better still try measuring belly girth (around the widest part of the belly) as this is quite sensitive to weight loss and often shifts before any appreciable change in body condition.
Remember to adjust forage intake to reflect hopefully a downward trend in bodyweight. Don’t neglect nutrient intake even when you are cutting calories — opt for a balancer designed to complement a calorie restricted diet.
Of course weight loss is also helped by exercise so keep that up and find some hills to do some faster work up as this will burn significantly more calories than walking or trotting on the flat.
Slimming a ‘weight loss’ resistant horse or pony down requires real dedication and while it can be frustrating, you and your pony will reap the rewards of a slimmer, fitter, healthier pony. For more information on weight management visit the SPILLERS website.
For more information on feeding call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.