- Keep your horse's weight in control, with a body condition score of 5-6.Feed primarily grasses and hays to make it easier for him to maintain a proper weight.
- Regular, moderate exercise will keep your horse's immune system running smoothly and his joints working well.
- Put together a checklist to ensure a safe environment.
- Observe your horse for any variation from normal, a first sign of trouble.
We've all learned to keep our horses up-to-date with vaccinations and deworming. But a veterinary wellness exam for your horse can often prevent equine diseases from ever attacking your horse or catch a problem early enough that it poses little or no danger to your horse's health. Read more on the benefits a veterinary wellness exam for your horse can bring to your horse's health.
Weight control is as important to equine health as it is to our health. The hard truth is that excess weight is never good for any horse, at any age. It greatly increases the burden on his feet and joints, stresses the back, makes it harder to breathe, can change the hormonal and metabolic profile, makes the horse less heat tolerant and in some instances even puts the horse at risk for laminitis.
The reverse is also true. Weight loss improves metabolic efficiency and exercise tolerance and greatly releases stress on the feet, legs and back.
Improper feeding and not enough exercise cause most weight problems. If your horse still can't lose weight despite regular exercise and appropriate feeding, you need to let your vet know so that the horse can be checked for hormonal disturbances.
A good way to determine whether your horse is carrying the proper amount of weight is with the body condition scale (see "How Does your Horse Measure Up," page 8). Ideally, his overall body score should be a 5 or 6.
A horse roaming around a field seems to be getting a lot more exercise than someone who spends hours a day at a desk, in front of the TV, on a computer or playing video games. But horses require much more exercise than humans, and the average horse, even in pasture, doesn't get as much exercise as he needs.
Everyone knows that regular exercise improves the horse's exercise tolerance and fitness, but it does much more. Joint cartilage has no blood supply and thus depends on exercise to keep it supplied with the nutrients it needs for repair and maintenance. Cartilage, which takes its nutrition from the joint fluid, has a sponge-like structure, emptying out when compressed and refilling when released. Regular, formal exercise makes joints healthier. It even improves the condition of arthritic joints as long as you don't overdo it.
Moderate exercise also improves the health of the immune system. Maintaining the immune system requires a lot of the amino acid glutamine, which is released from muscles during exercise.
Exercise has a profound effect on how calories are used. In addition to directly burning calories during exercise, the body shifts emphasis away from storing fat and toward building muscle for 24 hours after exercise.
You don't have to train your horse to the fitness of an Olympic athlete
to get these benefits. A minimum of 30 minutes a day, every day, will
If the horse is out of shape, start with uninterrupted walking on level ground, working up to more trotting and cantering/loping slowly. An added bonus is that the exercise will have the same beneficial effects on you.
With reference to weight control, it's usually not how much the horse is eating, but what he is eating that is causing excessive weight. Yes, horses are designed to live on grass, but in nature they might have to cover 20 miles a day to find enough. If your horse is getting too heavy on nothing but pasture, invest in a grazing muzzle.
The next best thing to grass is hay, plenty of it. A pound of a commercial grain mix can contain three times as many calories as a pound of hay. Grain is simply not a natural part of the horse's diet. A horse's diet should be based on a mixture of high-quality hays, with grain fed only if the horse cannot maintain a healthy weight with hay (or pasture) alone. A mixture of grasses usually does a good job of avoiding severe mineral imbalances.
Horses fed with the emphasis on grass/hay have a much easier time avoiding excessive weight gain, and some can often be allowed to eat whenever and however much they please. This is a more natural eating pattern and provides abundant fermentable materials for the microorganisms in the horse's intestinal tract, which in turn decreases the risk of digestive upsets or colic.
Your horse's diet should also include the vitamins and minerals he needs. Every process in your horse's body, from growing healthy feet and hair, to generating exercise, to keeping his immune system operating
well and avoiding allergies depends on good nutrition. For a horse eating a good mixture of grasses, you should only need to supplement that with a vitamin/mineral mix that matches the common deficiencies found in your area.
Be aware that over-supplementing of vitamins and minerals can be just as bad as shortages. More is not necessarily better and could even be worse.
If you are currently feeding a number of different supplements, it's time to get some independent advice from a vet interested in nutrition, or an equine nutritionist. The money you will save by streamlining your supplements, and the better results, make it well worth the investment.