The Rundown: Holiday Pounds

As you’re counting calories around the holidays, don’t forget to keep your horse’s weight in mind, too.

By Tara Christiansen
The American Quarter Horse Journal
December 9, 2011

Chewing the Fat

“We should think about ... the standard of excellence when Orren Mixer painted his model Quarter Horse,” Dr. Messer says of ideal horse weight. (Illustration by Jean Abernethy)

Is your horse’s cinch fitting a little snug this winter? During the winter, your horse might be packing a little bit more than a long winter coat. As you’re making your New Year’s resolutions to fit into that smaller size of Wranglers, don’t forget that your horse might have also added a little padding over the holidays.

In two articles in the December 2011 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal, “Chewing the Fat” and “Stall Confinement,” equine veterinary experts examine the correlation between carbohydrates and exercise, two key issues to keep in mind, especially during winter.

This winter, take the time to re-examine the amount of grain your horse is receiving, says Dr. Bruce McDavitt in “Chewing the Fat.”

“We feed too much grain,” Dr. McDavitt says. “Unless you have a horse that is doing heavy work, it needs very little grain, if any at all.”

He also suggests that horse owners observe their animals – don’t forget to feel under your horse’s heavy winter coat. Under three inches of hair, you might not notice how much – or how little – your horse weighs just by eyeballing him.

So, how much is too much grain?

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In “Chewing the Fat,” Dr. Nat T. Messer IV says, “Obese horses should have less than 10 percent of their diet in the form of soluble carbohydrates, which translates into sugar. Fiber and structural carbohydrates are what you find in most hay."

According to Dr. Douglas O. Thal in “Chewing the Fat,” the utopia for a horse is being out on pasture and moving all day.

However, he acknowledges that for a lot of horse owners, the reality of turnout is much different.

Dr. Thal advises maximum turnout in combination with regular exercise, such as trotting for at least 20 minutes several times a week.

As Dr. Thomas R. Lenz notes in his monthly Journal column, Horse Health, turnout vs. stall confinement can be a fierce battle.

Dr. Lenz stands on the side of maximum turnout, and as you can read in “Stall Confinement,” there are many benefits to winter turnout.

“If you stall your horses, consider the effect this situation might have on their general health and emotional state,” Dr. Lenz writes.

Dr. Lenz notes that research has shown that stall confinement is associated with the majority of impaction colics.

“Of course, feeding high-concentrate diets, making sudden changes in feeding programs and limited access to clean water are also significant causes (of colic),” he says.

Both “Stall Confinement” and “Chewing the Fat” in the December issue of the Journal examine issues that arise from overfeeding and stalling horses.

Here are a few issues to note:

  • The fatter a horse is, the more pre-disposed he is to developing other conditions, such as wear-and-tear on his joints from the additional weight and the dreaded L-word: laminitis.
  • Stalled horses are exposed to dust from feed and bedding and have an increased incidence of inflammatory airway disease, commonly referred to as “heaves.”
  • Horses are social animals and experience a number of behavioral problems when isolated or confined.
  • Stall confinement is commonly associated with impaction colics.

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While the daylight hours are waning, and are encouraging you to spend more time inside, use the winter months as time to educate yourself and your eye on the ideal horse weight.

“Now, most people consider that ‘pretty’ equals fat, and that’s not the way we should think about it,” Dr. Messer says in “Chewing the Fat.” “We should think about it as ugly being equivalent to fat, and go back to the more lean-bodied appearance that was the standard of excellence when Orren Mixer painted his model Quarter Horse.”