Study: Straw-Hay Mix Helps Ponies Lose Weight Safely

Scottish researchers found a half barley straw and half hay ration helped ponies lose weight.
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Study: Straw-Hay Mix Helps Ponies Lose Weight Safely
Eighty percent of the ponies in the hay-only group gained weight—adding an average of about 5% of their body weight. | Photo: iStock
If your pastured ponies turn into butterballs on hay alone in winter, feeding them straw might offer a solution. According to researchers in Scotland, overweight ponies living outdoors in groups can safely lose weight on a 50/50 barley straw-hay ration.

“Our study suggests that straw isn’t dangerous for ponies—at least the ones in our study population—and it can be used to induce weight loss in ponies living in the field year-round while keeping their hunger satisfied,” said Miranda Dosi, DVM (Hons) MRCVS, an equine medical resident at the University of Edinburgh Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies.

Dosi and her fellow researchers observed 40 mixed-breed ponies over a four-month period (December to March) as they consumed either a normal ration made up entirely of hay or the same ration composed of 50% local U.K. hay and 50% unchopped barley straw. All the ponies in the straw/hay group lost weight (dropping about 5% of their body weight, on average). Eighty percent of the ponies in the hay-only group gained weight—adding an average of about 5% of their body weight.

“Straw is a forage that’s high in fibers while low in proteins and sugars, leading to gradual weight loss,” Dosi said. “It’s not as palatable as hay, but they’ll eat it if they’re hungry

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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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