Why Obese Horses Need Both Diet and Exercise

Dietary restriction plus a low-intensity exercise program helped improve overweight horses’ insulin sensitivities, which could help reduce their risk of developing laminitis.
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Dietary restriction along with a low-intensity exercise program, which included 15 minutes of trotting five days per week, helped improve overweight horses' insulin sensitivity more than a program of dietary restriction alone. | Photo: iStock

Obese horses can lose weight on a diet alone. But it might take a low-intensity exercise program to improve their insulin sensitivities, as well, Australian and British researchers have learned.

“Our results demonstrated that a program of dietary restriction that included 15 minutes of trotting exercise on five days per week was able to improve insulin sensitivity more than a program of dietary restriction alone,” said Nicholas Bamford, BVSc, PhD, MANZCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, of the University of Melbourne Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, in Werribee, Victoria, Australia.

Bamford and colleagues studied 24 obese horses and ponies (Standardbreds, Andalusians, and mixed-breed ponies). All animals received a reduced hay ration (1.25% of their body weight on a dry matter basis per day) and were kept on drylots for the 12-week study period. Half the animals—divided evenly across ages and breeds—also began a low-intensity exercise program (15 minutes of trotting on a horse walker, beginning and ending with five minutes of walking). They performed these exercises once a day, five days a week

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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