Addressing the ‘Air Fern’ in Your Barn

Roly-poly, cresty-necked horses and ponies are in harm’s way. Here’s how to help your overweight equid shed pounds.

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Addressing the
Grazing muzzles are essential for obese horses on pasture if a drylot is not available. | Photo: Montanabw/Wikimedia Commons
Roly-poly, cresty-necked horses and ponies might be well-loved, even adored by their owners, but in reality, they are in harm’s way. Obese equids are at a high risk for developing serious metabolic problems and the hoof disease laminitis.

To mitigate this risk, veterinarians and horse owners must understand the health problems at play and effective strategies for weight loss. Ingrid Vervuert, DMV, of the Institute of Animal Nutrition, Nutrition Diseases and Dietetics and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Leipzig, in Gemrany, described these approaches at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

Perception is Key

While horse owners might understand and recognize the problems with obesity, many don’t realize when their own horses are overweight. Obesity develops due to excessive energy intake, poor management and feeding practices, and lack of exercise, said Vervuert. Some horses and ponies are “easy keepers,” meaning they maintain weight with very little supplemental feed. Overfeeding easy keepers undoubtedly leads to weight gain.

Metabolic Consequences

Energy that horses and ponies do not burn off is stored as fat. Fat tissue acts as an endocrine gland capable of secreting inflammatory proteins (cytokines), hormones (leptin and adiponectin), and enzymes for lipid (fat) regulation

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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