Reduced Pasture Size Can Help Your Horse Lose Weight

Can decreasing pasture size also decrease your horse’s weight even if turnout time doesn’t change? A researcher investigated and offers management tips based on her results.
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Reduced Pasture Size Can Help Your Horse Lose Weight
Gartland found that the restricted grazing group maintained or lost body weight, while the continuous grazing group gained significant weight. | Photo: Courtesy Beverly Gartland
While pasture is vital to a horse’s gastrointestinal health, calorie intake, and ability to exercise and socialize, too much can lead to obesity. Ways to limit horses’ pasture intake include grazing muzzles and reduced time spent on grass. But for horses that live outside 24 hours a day, can reducing the amount of pasture space alone affect weight?

Beverly Gartland, graduate student at Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green, aimed to find out. She presented her findings at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

In her study, Gartland evaluated eight adult horses with maintenance-level nutrient requirements and similar body condition scores. She randomly placed four in a continuous grazing group (six weeks on a 2.2-acre tall fescue field) and four in a space-restricted rotational grazing group. Every seven days, she’d move the latter group into a new 1/3- to 1/10-acre grazing cell with only enough grass to meet 80% of their daily nutrient requirements.

Each week Gartland would bring all horses inside, fast them overnight, and take their weights. Three times a week, she observed and recorded how much time each horse spent grazing, standing, or performing other behaviors

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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