michigan horseshoers association



too little exercise

to much feed

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fat horses

by Doug Russo, CJF

Fat horses!!! They are becoming an epidemic and while a horse's diet is not my area of expertise, your horse's diet affects his feet and I know about feet. There seems to be this notion with many horse owners that every horse requires grain. I'm seeing horses who don't get ridden more than a handful of times in a year being grained once and/or twice a day. It's OK to see a little rib on your horse, that doesn't mean he's skinny. When I was in my prime you could see a few of my ribs too!

In terms of body condition and weight, the average horse weighs 1000 lbs. Think about how small hooves are in relation to a horse's body. Now wrap your brain around this, horses bare two-thirds (approximately 375 lbs per limb) of their weight on the forelimbs. This is why laminitis and founder are so often seen affecting the front feet . I think most farriers would agree that we are seeing a lot more laminitis in recent years. Lamanitis is inflammation of the lamina, which suspends the coffin bone and attaches it to the hoof wall. When inflammation is severe enough these lamina begin to tear and the coffin bone can rotate downward, leading to founder. This particular article will focus less on laminitis and more on the subject of overweight horses, the health and behavior risks, and how to be proactive.

Again, I don't claim to be an equine dietician, But I am in the business of the equine hoof, and a horse's diet can have a direct impact. Much like humans there are significant health risks in overweight horses The longer a horse is over weight the more at risk he is of becoming insulin resistant. Consequently, the longer A horse is insulin resistant the more at risk he is of developing a variety of ailments; all potentially leading to lamanitis and founder .

In addition to the apparent health risks, fat horses are often spoiled and poorly behaved. This makes enjoying and managing the horse a real pain in the butt for all handlers (especially your farrier). Giving inadequate and/or unnecessary amounts of grain is comparable to giving my 6 year old a candy bar and then expecting him to sit still . It just doesn't make sense. A horse's diet should reflect their need based on the body condition scale as well as the amount and level of work they are doing. Without taking such factors into consideration, the results can potentially be expensive, painful for the horse or even deadly.

Health risks and behavior problems are not the only issues to consider when evaluating a horse's weight. Their athleticism has a significant impact regarding bio-mechanics. Horses who are over weight are not as athletic which leads to clumsiness, stumbling, interference, propensity to pulling shoes and quicker onset of fatigue. Overweight horses also tend to have further hoof issues such as bruising, abscesses, flat feet, and dropped soles. These issues are all easier to prevent and manage when the weight is appropriately monitored.

Even tho this information is obvious and simple, there are many horse owners out there (they are my inspiration here) who equate love for their horses with fat bellies and cresty necks. Horse owners have a responsibility to monitor their horse's body condition and when the herd is getting a little too cuddly, rations must be cut back appropriately.

In the mean time, the farrier is faced with the challenges that arise.

I personally have had what I call "worst case scenarios" which is building heart bar shoes in a last ditch effort to save that severely foundered horse that was inadvertently killed with kindness. When these severe cases ARE able to be saved, these poor animals will likely never be the same. 
I feel inspired and compelled to put this article out there. I never claim to be an expert horseman but I have seen my share of diet issues directly relating to an array of hoof problems; ranging from mildly annoying to gravely disappointing. So please take this advice…..if your farrier says that your horses weight is affecting his feet, heed the warning before its too late. Call your trusted veterinarian and put together an appropriate feeding plan.


Re-posted with permission

Doug russo's l bar s miniature cattle website