Calorie counting

Once you’ve condition scored and estimated your pony’s weight, it’s time to look at calorie intake and how it can be adjusted to allow for a sensible, steady and sustainable weight loss.

The biggest intake of calories comes from grass. Over the past decade, old natural meadows have all but disappeared, to be replaced by more “efficient” grass varieties: hardier, higher in sugar and lower in fibre content. This higher sugar intake is directly linked to laminitis and obesity.

The warmer climates of recent years also means that grass is still very rich and plentiful throughout the winter. Horses are naturally designed to graze barren lands and live off their acquired fat stores in the winter, reaching a lean state by the time spring returns. In the wild, horses would also have to walk long distances to ingest their daily feed requirements and would use up energy growing, mating, rearing a foal or actively protecting their herd.

So in order for horses to remain healthy and lean, we need to recreate more natural conditions: restrict grazing and keep the horses active. Time restriction on its own is not sufficient as studies have shown that a greedy pony can consume more than its daily calorie requirement over 2 hours! Strip grazing, mixed grazing with sheep and grazing muzzles are much more efficient.

Below is a brilliant example of restricting grazing without compromising on turnout. Gorgeous 12 year old pony, Jake, was suffering with chronic laminitis and so too painful to work. He had a very large crest and a body score of ⅘. His owner Hayley was struggling to achieve any weight loss and had to confine him to his stable.

Under the guidance of vet Martin, this simple weight loss pen was built with 20 fence posts , some electric fence tape and used bedding wood shavings. This allowed them to manage his 1.5%BW fibre diet while keeping him out of the stable and achieve the desired weight loss.

He is now a body score of 3.5/5 , pain free , off all medication and able to be ridden as well as being able to enjoy being outside in the company of his mate.