Obesity among equines seems to be a ubiquitous problem that leaves many owners seeking a weight loss program for their horse or pony. When it comes to devising a weight loss program, some caretakers turn to restricting the animal’s caloric intake; however, one research team found that it’s important to consider all possible materials that might be deemed as ‘food’ by a hungry horse, including stall bedding.

Wood shavings are a common form of stall bedding because they’re typically seen as inedible, but a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool School of Veterinary Science, in collaboration with scientists at WALTHAM, in the U.K., noted recently that horses placed under dietary restriction might turn to consuming these shavings.

"This was a finding that came to light from a larger study which was designed to investigate restricted nutritional protocols for the corrective management of obesity in horses," explained Caroline McGregor-Argo, BVSc, BSc, PhD, Dipl. ECAR, MRCVS, an author on the study.

The researchers studied 12 mature, healthy horses or ponies with a body condition score (BCS) of 7 (out of a possible 9) or greater for 16 weeks. Animals were housed full-time in individual stalls with wood shavings with the exception of 30 minutes of turnout (with anti-grazing muzzles) each day.

Study horses were restricted to eating 1.25% of their bodyweight of a forage-based diet in order to achieve weight loss, but in measuring the ‘apparent digestibility’ of each horse’s diet, it became clear to the researchers that nearly half the horses were excreting a greater amount than