How to tell if your horse is too thin, too fat, or just right…

Welcome back

Here’s a story about how people’s perception of horses can be so drastically different.

My neighbor, who owns horses as well as has boarders, decided that the new horses across the street seemed too skinny. So, she called animal control and told them that she felt that these new horses weren’t being taken care of correctly and were underweight. Guess who’s horses she called about?

Yup, mine.

So, one day I get a lady on my front porch from animal control who told me that my neighbor had called them about my horses and they just wanted to check. After being shocked and upset that someone would think my horses were being mistreated and not fed properly, I gladly took the officer out to visit my horses as well as show her the farm operations. We had a great conversation for over two hours.

She loved my boys! They gave her hugs and kisses and she had no issues whatsoever with their condition or their facilities. She actually asked me tons of questions and even asked if I would come out to the station to teach a class on what to look for with horses.

She was also very apologetic but said she was just doing her job. I completely understood and I was glad that they were available to help horses in need and that they cared so much for animal welfare. I also offered my help to house and care for any horses that needed help as she said in many cases they have to take horses away from owners and find alternative care facilities.

She left and said she would call my neighbor and let her know that she felt my horses were healthy and that there was no need to worry.

Well, that wasn’t the end of it. My neighbor insisted that she “knew better” than animal control and complained louder and said that someone else needed to go out and look as, in her words, “The officer didn’t know enough about horses to know what was right.”

So, the same officer came out again but with another officer this time. We went through the same drill again and they even brought their vet with them. Their vet checked the boys out and declared that my horses were all very healthy, their weights were normal for their breed, and there were no issues.

My vet who had just recently checked them out after their journey from California, also gave the officers a report showing a full bill of health. He certified to the animal control officers personally that my horses were not only healthy for their ages, but they were healthier than many other horses even younger that he had seen.

The Farrier who had also just come out, also attested to how healthy and well maintained their legs, bodies, and hooves were.

Plus, I gave the officers my earlier vet check, health certificate, and negative coggins test that the horses had to go through before they left California in order to be transferred between states. Again, the officers were more than happy with the welfare of my horses and their care.

Karma does have a way of working itself out though.

The officers both then walked over to the neighbor’s house, with their vet, directly after their inspection with me to discuss their findings face to face and put this issue to rest.

As they walked past her horses in the field, they decided to have their vet check some of them out as they were now concerned with how she was treating her horses.

They found that some of her horses were severely underweight and showed signs of malnutrition and a lack of hoof care and regular maintenance. It was so sad.

They told her what she needed to do to help her horses and watched her closely for a few months to make sure they received the proper medical care and treatment that they needed.

The bad part of this story is that I had to jump through a lot of hoops because of someone else’s perception of what a healthy horse looks like. The good part of this story is that my neighbor’s horses got the help they so desperately needed.

And further to the story, they shut down her boarding facility and revoked her license as she was not taking the appropriate care of the horses that were being boarded.

Of course, the officer stops by now and then to chat with me and get hugs and kisses from my boys. The officer says it just brightens her day to stop by, get some lovin’ and see their joy as her days can be so depressing sometimes.

One of my friends feels that my neighbor called the officers about me because she had heard that I was a horse trainer and she didn’t want the competition right next door. She claims to be a horse trainer and a dog trainer. She is very young and has only owned horses for a few years and clearly doesn’t have the knowledge she should have about how to take care of horses.  Unfortunately, added to that, she also thinks she knows everything there is to know about horses and refuses to listen to anyone else.  Not a good combination.

It’s so important to not only learn how to ride a horse properly, but also how to take care of him or her properly as well. Education is so important as you are responsible for the welfare of a caring, loving, animal who wants to be happy, healthy, and be a part of your family.  And since there is always new research and new products coming out, it is a good idea to keep reading to keep your horse as healthy as possible.

After this wild ride with animal control officers, it got me thinking about checking out the latest research studies on horse’s welfare related to weight.

Guess what I found out?

We all know that obesity in humans has been a long-time problem that has been addressed in numerous books all over the world, and many well-known doctors. That’s why the weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar business.

But did you know that there is an ongoing issue with obesity in horses?

According to a study published by the International Society for Equitation Science, obesity in horses has now become a globally recognized welfare concern. Wow!

Also, just like humans, carrying an excess amount of weight is unhealthy. It has been shown to increase risks of laminitis, osteoarthritis, heat intolerance, and certain types of colic in horses.  Plus it can adversely affect athletic performance as it puts additional stress on the skeletal system.

According to this study, perceptions of what is “normal”, what is “too skinny” and what is “too fat” is as skewed in the horse world now as it is in our world.

As a result, the new “normal” is heavier, fatter, horses which has led to an increased health risk in many domestic horses.

Managing your horse’s proper weight takes time and planning, and changes depending on their age as well.

Once a horse is considered obese, it can be difficult to change his diet and can be complicated depending on many factors like; the amount of time they are turned out in a grass pasture or how much hay they are given daily.

Then you have to consider if they need grain (extra protein), vitamins and minerals, the amount of salt they need, the potency of the grass they are eating (the season), and even their water intake.

TIP: If you soak the hay in water it lowers the amount of sugar they consume.

So many things can change the calorie intake of your horse on a daily basis. On top of that you need to know what’s best for YOUR horse as every horse and breed are different in their make-up and what keeps them “healthy”.

According to Dr. Harris, it’s actually easier and better for horses if people worked on the prevention of obesity in order to keep a normal weight on their horse. He also suggested that horse owners research feeding management strategies as well as learning how to recognize if their horse is too thin or too fat by using their Body Condition Score (BCS).

In this study, he outlined how to correctly assess the BCS of horses using the Henneke System.

This 9-point scale uses a combination of visual observation and examination of six areas of the body: neck, behind the shoulder, withers, ribs, loin/back and tail head. A numerical value is assigned based on the fat accumulated in all six areas. I’ve attached the table below that was discussed in this study to show you how they assess the BCS.

First, an initial observation should be taken from both the side and the back of the horse at a distance of approximately 2.5m. This provides a general overview of the body shape and enables the owner to look for the possible presence or absence of key bony ‘landmarks’ – e.g. the hips or ribs.

I was always taught that if you could markedly see the ribs of the horse that he was too skinny and to watch out for the hips being too boney and protruding out. Plus, if the sides of his hips had a deep dip in them that would also mean that the horse was too skinny.

But again, it depended on the size, age, and breed of the horse. For example, race horses are naturally skinnier and draft horses are naturally heavier.

However, while a visual inspection can give an indication of the BCS, anatomical differences, breed, age, as well as variations in hair coat means that the owner must run their hands over the different areas of the horse’s body to determine the correct final condition score, just to make sure.

Both a score of 3 or lower (underweight) or a score of 7 or higher (overweight) are associated with risks of health problems and the welfare of the horse.

My vet actually suggested taking periodic measurements of the girth and rear end width to see if and when there are variations. He also told me to take note of each measurement so I can compare them annually.

Please note that depending on the type of horse, breed, age, etc… it may be harder for a horse to lose weight after gaining too much and the opposite may also be the case for senior horses where it is much more difficult to keep weight on them.

Here is the BCS table discussed earlier –

Equine Veterinary Journal – https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2042-3306.1983.tb01826.x

BCS table

I hope this helps you look at your horse and other horses appropriately in order to keep them as safe as possible. Their welfare is always top priority to me.

These loving, amazing creatures are under our care, so learning more about how to help them stay healthy and happy is a never-ending education goal for me and I hope it is for you as well.

Thank you for all you do for your horse. 🙂

 

 

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