Do Obese Horses Spend More Time Eating Than Lean Ones?

Lean horses actually spent more time than obese ones eating, but both groups consume roughly the same amount of hay.

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Do Obese Horses Spend More Time Eating Than Lean Ones?
Lean horses actually spent more time than obese horses eating; however, the DMI wasn’t significantly different between the groups, suggesting the horses consume roughly the same amount of grass hay. | Photo: iStock
It’s a familiar scenario for many owners: Horse A, who’s already overweight, always seems to be grazing or cleaning up food left behind by others. Meanwhile, skinny Horse B never seems to eat as much of the food at his disposal as his pasturemate.

But is this what’s really going on? Not necessarily, say researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU).

Jennifer Moore, a PhD student at NCSU working under Shannon Pratt-Phillips, MSc, PhD, presented her work at the 2017 Equine Science Society Symposium, held May 30-June 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her research aimed to quantify lean and obese horses’ dry matter intake of hay, in hopes of determining whether obese horses eat more than their lean counterparts relative to their body weight. Several undergraduate students, including Bridget Gillaspie, analyzed and presented parts of the data, including the research on horses’ time budgets—basically, how much time horses spent doing different activities.

The team studied 10 mature geldings of various breeds, classified as either lean (an average body condition score of 4.5) or obese (an average BCS of 7.5), housed in individual pens and fed grass hay in a haynet. While the team only fed hay twice daily, the amount provided was enough that the horses always had forage in front of them. The horses also had constant access to an automatic watering system and a trace-mineral salt block

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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