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What do you think about your horse's weight?

What do you think about your horse's weight at the moment?

We recently held our first Weight Clinic here at Nutwell, following our Fat or Fit evening. With equine obesity levels in the UK sky-high, discussions about weight should be one of the most common topics covered by vets, farriers, physios, nutritionists, instructors and many other healthcare professionals. However, it isn’t an easy conversation to have with owners and organisations such as the Horse Trust are investing into research on how to tackle the subject.

Finding a weight management strategy that works for the owner, the horse and for their yard can seem difficult. Every owner’s situation is different and what works for one may not work for the other. The weight clinic was a great opportunity for attendees to discuss openly about the weight of their horse and develop the best strategies for them. We welcomed Lucy Sweeting from Saracen Horse Feeds, our own registered veterinary nurse Amanda Boswell and our vet Claire Hopkins. The day was well attended with very positive feedback.

Each appointment began with taking a history about the horse, including questions about the level and type of work the horse is in, the current feeding regime including quantity and type of feed given, access to grazing and, not to be forgotten, any treats given! Relevant medical history for example PPID, EMS, history of laminitis or gastric ulcers was also noted.

The horses then received a general health check before assigning them a ‘body score’ using the Saracen 1-9 scale. 1 being an emaciated horse and 9 being extremely overweight. A score of 5 is ideal, although it’s important to note that a thoroughbred and a cob are never going to look the same even if they both have a body score 5! To assign a body score, the horse should be split into 3 parts, which are assessed in isolation, given a score and then the 3 scores averaged to decide the final score. Area 1: head to shoulder – obvious fat deposits in this region are the crest and in front of the shoulder blade. Area 2: withers to pelvis – ribs should be able to be easily felt with light pressure, other fat deposits can be found just behind the shoulder blades and by the withers. Area 3: the rump – obvious sites of fat deposition are along the back giving rise to an ‘apple bottom’ and at the tailhead.

Everyone then guessed the weight of each horse as a fun game to see how accurate we were. We then used a weigh tape to get a more accurate figure for the weight – weigh tapes are a valuable tool to have in your tack box and when used appropriately and regularly are useful for monitoring trends in your horses weight. Finally we used our weigh bridge which is installed at the clinic to give the most accurate figure for the horses’ weight. As a general trend, the weigh tape slightly underestimated the weight compared to the weigh bridge value.

Last and by no means least we discussed dietary and management changes. Lucy was able to give specific advice regarding feed products available, discussing pros and cons of many different products.

Monitoring change is a key though it is difficult to set specific targets, as you never know how each horse is going to respond to a weight loss plan and can be disheartening when the they don’t reach the target that was set. Most importantly, it is key to understand that every horse is different and our vets will continue to review the progress of the horses that attended.

A useful tool that was discussed was a guide developed by the University of Liverpool (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/…/…/Equine,Weight,Management.pdf) which helps divide the topic of weight management into four areas: reducing grazing, increasing exercise, reducing supplementary feed and using the horse's metabolism, in order to reduce weight. The guide contains over sixty diverse strategies collected from this project and has received outstanding feedback.

If you have any concerns regarding your horse’s weight, please contact the practice to arrange a visit from one of our vets. If you would be interested in attending a future weight clinic, please contact Amanda to register your interest on 01392 876622 (option 2)

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