Equine obesity has become a more prevalent health issue and owner’s awareness has developed within recent years. A horse that is significantly overweight can be predisposed to several physical dysfunctions and diseases such as laminitis, joint problems, osteochondrosis and even lowered fertility.
Entering the winter season horses will naturally be heavier and gradually lose this weight before spring. We have a responsibility as horse owners to manage and care for their well-being, awareness of their body weight is important to evaluate health status and determine the amount of feed required. Accurate body weight is required to calculate correct medication dosages, such as when anthelmintic products are administered.
A weight management regime should be in practise to help you identify the horse’s weight fluctuation throughout the year. Many owners find it difficult to recognise if their horses are over or underweight. Weighing your horse and monitoring feed intake can be a tricky task, some of the different methods that can help you to assess your horse’s weight/condition include; condition scoring, using a weighbridge, weight tape, or weight formulation.
Firstly, let’s take a step back and look at the overall picture of the horse. The staff from Kentucky Equine Research mention; “Condition scoring gives a useful overview of the amount of fat on the horse as opposed to its weight so it can be difficult to judge, especially on heavier breeds. If possible, ask a friend to help you condition score and discuss weight management”.
Condition scoring involves being hands on and feeling for fat deposits. It is good practise to record the condition score every month and take photos for comparison. Carroll and Huntington developed a formalised system that uses descriptions to contrast the differences in horse’s relative fatness or thinness on a scale of 0-5. This is a useful tool for owners to assess overall condition and monitor weight fluctuations.
An accurate and reliable method of weighing your horse is by using an equine specific weighbridge, measuring weight in Kg/Lbs. Portable weighing scales can be purchased but it can be an expensive investment unless it is frequently used. Bluegrass Horse Feed provide a free weight clinic to give yards to opportunity to use their portable weighbridge and get expert advise from nutritional advisors.
Weigh tapes are easy to use and when used in a consistent manner are good for monitoring purposes, but it is important to remember they are not accurate. The tape is placed on the base of the withers and dropped over the side of the horse, around the girth and positioned behind the elbow of the foreleg. For consistency, ensure to measure from the same point every time and the horse is standing square on flat ground. It is a good idea to check your weigh tape recording with a weighbridge reading if possible, this will provide an insight into the difference for further reference.
Australian Equine Nutritionists created a tape measure formula that provides an accurate way to determine body weight if you are using a measuring tape. Taking measurements of the heart girth and length of the horse will formulate the overall bodyweight, see figure two.
Formula: Heart girth (cm)² x Length (cm)
11877= Bodyweight (kg)
Using a measuring tape, measure the heart girth of the horse and measure the length from the point of shoulder to point of buttock. Enter these measurements into the formula above. Ensure the horse is on level ground and standing square when taking measurements.
Keep a record
Aim to record your horse’s weight weekly or monthly around the same date and the same approximate time of the day i.e before the horse receives a meal, as this can alter his weight.
Whether you have access to an equine weighing scales or use the body condition score system, getting to know your horse’s weight will help your management to prevent obesity, illness and other debilitating conditions.