California Riding Magazine • May, 2012

AAEP Ask the Vet March 2012
Advice for an Easy Keeper

by Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA

I have a VERY easy keeper needing to lose weight going into spring grass. I use a grazing muzzle along with limited grazing & NO grain...any other advice beside more exercise? so afraid of founder but don't want him in a stall all day?! Kimberly

Dear Kimberly,

Horses that seem to gain weight on air can be extremely frustrating to manage for the horse owner, barn manager, veterinarian, farrier . . . no one is spared. It sounds like you're headed in the right direction though, so I'll just add a few tips I've picked up along the way.


The grazing muzzle is "de rigueur" for any easy keeper being turned out on pasture. However, during the spring while pasture grass is in a fast-growing phase AND your horse needs to lose weight, consider turning him out in a dry lot only and not allowing ANY access to pasture. I agree that stall confinement is not the ideal solution for a number of reasons, so try and find a compromise between pasture and stabling.

In completely removing all grain while trying to reduce their horses' intake of calories and sugar, some owners have inadvertently created nutrient deficiencies. Provide a complete and balanced diet by introducing either a ration balancer or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Some horses with weight problems have improved with this simple correction to their diet!
Watch treats. An apple or ½ a bag of carrots or handful of molasses treats here and there may not seem like a big deal. However, the calories add up and the sugar may cause his glucose and insulin to spike, worsening any insulin resistance he may have. By the way, has your veterinarian examined him for Equine Metabolic Syndrome?


Research is conflicting, but if your horse is sound, then I advise at least 30 minutes each and every day of some sort of controlled exercise. Since turnout does not equal exercise for these types of horses, it is up to you to design a workout regimen and make him stick to it. You are your horse's personal trainer. Be creative—in addition to riding and lunging there's also hand walking, free lunging, ponying, long lining (ground driving) and just plain ground handling. Equine Biggest Loser, here we come!


In addition to a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, there are products targeted to the metabolic system of your horse. Most contain ingredients that mimic the effects of insulin or are designed to help it work better. Ask your veterinarian if one of these supplements might be appropriate for your horse. Also ask about adding Omega 3 Fatty Acids. While it may seem counter-intuitive to add fat to an already overweight horse, research presented at the AAEP convention showed that omega 3s may help protect against laminitis.


Finally, if your horse is truly diagnosed with insulin resistance and Equine Metabolic Syndrome, ask your veterinarian if the prescription medication Thyro-L might be helpful in accelerating weight loss (and therefore lowering his chances of developing laminitis). Since several studies have shown that this drug lowers body weight and increases insulin sensitivity in overweight horses, it may be a useful conversation to have with your vet.

Article provided by SmartPak.
Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak, where she guides research and new product development, answers questions on her Ask the Vet blog, and speaks around the country at various events such as Equine Affaire, Dressage at Devon, and the USHJA Trainers’ Symposiums.