With longer days and warmer weather, most horse owners have been longing for spring to come back. It can however be a more challenging time for managing your horse’s weight. More time in the paddocks, lush grass, changes in diet and exercise routine can affect horses’ and ponies’ body condition. In turn, this can lead to a vast range of conditions such as laminitis, joint issues, obesity and even insulin resistance.
Let’s take a closer look on how to manage your horse’s weight and condition through the spring.
Your horse’s Body Condition Score, or Fat Scoring, can help track changes and determine if it needs to gain, lose, or maintain its current weight. The aim is to assess how much body fat is on your horse.
The BCS is a scale ranging from being extremely underweight to extremely obese. A healthy body condition highlights a healthy amount of fat and good muscle tone.
Your vet should be able to help you with Fat Scoring your horse or pony.
The optimum BCS score can vary according to the horse's breed and the discipline that you perform.
The 0-5 scale
The Henneke Scale
If you own a good doer, you will already know that you need to keep a close eye on your horse’s or pony’s weight.
In addition to evaluating the BCS, you can use a weight tape or a scale to track changes in your horse’s weight objectively. It can be hard to notice gradual changes when you see your horse every day.
Monitoring your horse's weight regularly is essential for managing their weight effectively. You can use a weight tape or scale to measure your horse's weight, or you can assess their body condition score regularly. By tracking your horse's weight, you can adjust their diet and exercise routine accordingly to maintain their healthy weight.
a. Managing access to spring grass
In the spring, the grass become richer and contains higher levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs). When digested, these break down into starch and sugars which can increase the calorie intake.
Limiting turnout in lush pasture is an effective way to manage calorie intake in the spring. When possible, limit access to the fields and increase progressively the amount of time spent on grass. For horses and ponies living out, or those already overweight, a grazing muzzle may be a sensible option.
A hay net before you turn your horse or pony out can help reduce their appetite for grass. Its high fibre content can also help prevent digestive issues such as ulcers and colic.
b. Adjusting you horse’s feed
You may need to review the content of the feed bucket. Reducing the amount of hard feed or concentrate and increasing the volume of fibre can help lowering the calorie intake whilst providing your horse with essential nutrients, supplements and fibres to insure their digestive wellbeing and general health.
As always, make sure you introduce these changes gradually to reduce the risk of digestive issues.
Keep in mind that if spring means that your horse’s or pony’s workload is increasing, its diet needs to remain balance to avoid weight loss or deficiencies.
c. Exercise changes
After the short winter months, many owners are keen to get on with training or simply hacking in better weather and light conditions.
Increasing the workload needs to be done progressively to avoid injuries as your horse get back into shape. If your horse or pony is overweight, take care of its joints which will be under additional pressure.
Lunging, longer hacks, and working on the flat can be a good way to restart your exercise program, with hill work and jumping requiring a certain level of fitness before being brought back into the routine.
Figures by the BHS show that up to 50% of horses in the UK are overweight. To avoid hefty vet bills and ensure your horses’ and ponies’ health and wellbeing, the issue of weight management is crucial. Spring brings environmental, lifestyle and metabolic changes that can influence horses’ body condition and actively managing grass intake, feed and exercise you can help them go through spring more safely.