When it comes to caring for insulin-resistant (IR) horses, diet plays a very important role in managing insulin levels and preventing associated diseases such laminitis. Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are key features of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and can also occur in horses with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (or equine Cushing's disease). These animals often need to lose weight and consume fewer carbs.

To that end, Ray Geor, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor and researcher at Michigan State University's department of large animal clinical sciences, shared best feeding practices for IR horses at the 2013 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Nov. 1-3 in West Palm Beach, Fla. He first discussed weight loss, then carbohydrate consumption.

Managing Obesity

Geor explained that dietary restriction and exercise are two key components to curbing obesity in IR horses. "Dietary restriction is not rocket science," he said. "But it requires owner/trainer compliance and patience and sticking to the program (to be successful). Diet changes are likely a lifelong pursuit, especially for horses with EMS that are easy keepers and have a tendency to become obese."

Geor recommended owners of affected horses institute a weight loss program with the goal of improving the animal's metabolism to reduce his risk of developing associated laminitis. He offered the following guidelines for developing a program:

  • Base your horse's diet on forage or a forage substitute, and eliminate grain and calorie-dense feeds (e.g., sweet feeds) if possible. –