We know that keeping horses’ hindguts healthy helps the digestive tract function properly. But some researchers now believe the microflora residing in the hindgut could contribute to equine obesity.

At the 2012 Alltech Symposium, held May 21-23 in Lexington, Ky., Lucy Waldron, PhD, president and founder of LWT Animal Nutrition in Feilding, New Zealand, discussed what previous research on the subject suggests and where more research is needed to develop practical applications in horses.

A Growing Problem

Waldron relayed that obesity is prevalent in today’s horses and is believed to contribute to a number of other health problems, including laminitis, developmental orthopedic disorders, insulin resistance, colic, and acidosis. And while a restricted diet and additional exercise might help some horses, Waldron cautioned that not all obese horses will respond in the same manner.

Further, she noted, "We all know there are good doers and poor doers within the horse population. Two horses could have the same paddock, the same owner, the same everything, and they could have very different weights."

Waldron said these observations have prompted researchers and scientists to look for other causes of obesity.

Hindgut Microflora

Research in other species prompted equine researchers to look to horses’ hindguts for a potential answer to obesity. Specifically, she noted, research in mice, chickens, and pets has indicated the microbial profiles of obese animals are much different than those of non-obese animals.

One study in horses, Waldron relayed, found that