Updated: Dec 15, 2022
What if your horse is overweight on pasture?
Many of our pastures have been ‘improved’ to speed the process of preparing beef cattle. However, the goal for cattle farming is weight gain, not longevity, and so those pastures do not necessarily have a strong nutritional profile. Like feeding people solely on take away food – being overweight, or even a healthy weight does not mean all their nutritional requirements are being met by pasture alone.
Wild horses have the opportunity to roam and forage on a range of pasture types, seasonal herbs and seeds, and indeed to seek out salt pans and high mineral soils. Domestic horses are confined to the pastures that we give them. This can be problematic, for example - pastures like setaria and kikuyu are ‘oxalate pastures’ which bind calcium and can result in problems for horses like ‘big head’.
An assessment of pastures for horses can be found here:
The goal in supplementary feeding our horses – whether overweight, underweight or at a healthy weight on pasture, is to meet the nutritional requirements that are not met by pasture alone. For horses that are underweight or a healthy weight, calcium and phosphorous can generally be met by feeds high in those minerals such as lucerne and speedibeet, or wheat bran. Supplementary feeding though is a fine line for horses that are overweight with a tendency to insulin resistance or founder.
Some products that are available on the market claim to be safe for horses with insulin resistance or a tendency to founder, but the devil is in the detail. For example, some feeds are marketed as ‘no grain’ but still contain molasses – which is sugar. Sugar alone is not the only inflammatory. Ingredients such as corn or rice are generally high GI. Oils such as sunflower or canola have the inverse omega ratios required by horses.
If your horse has chronic hoof lameness, a tendency to fatty deposits above the eyes or dock, and a hard cresty neck, caution is necessary with supplementary feeding.
You can learn more about managing insulin resistance, Cushings, founder or equine metabolic syndrome here:
This site discusses the use of Chaste Tree Berry – an adaptogenic herb that has many of the same properties as the medication ‘pergolide’. Many of our clients have had excellent long term results using CTB, although most horses will need to go on medication eventually as the condition progresses.
We sell chaste tree berry here:
So what is missing from pasture for overweight horses?
When we began our nutrition business we sampled many pastures here in the Hunter, on the Central Coast and in North Western Sydney. We found that most pastures were typically deficient in copper, zinc and iodine. In response to that we put together three ‘trace mixes’ – one based in salt, one in a biotin base and one in a chia base. We have found for over ten years that these mixes tend to resolve the symptoms of deficiencies in these three minerals. (NB these were not the only minerals that were deficient, but the ones that tended to be deficient in a relatively predictable way).
These trace mixes are a good way to start addressing common trace mineral deficiencies.
If you would like to have your own pasture sampled to be entirely accurate in its mineral profile, and receive a mix specific to your horses needs, we can refer you to a nutritionist whose primary business is preparing these custom mixes.
Managing weight in obese horses is not dissimilar to managing obesity in humans - keeping calories within a healthy limit, and more regular exercise. Calorie restriction can be achieved by limiting access to pasture – keeping your horse off pasture at certain times of the day, or by using a grazing muzzle.
A previous blog post on paddock design including ‘paddock paradise’ can be found here:
In some ways managing a horse that is overweight on pasture can be more challenging for owners than improving condition on an underweight horse. A great deal of vigilance is required by those owners to keep their horses sound and pain-free. It’s important that you regularly check for digital pulses and heat in the feet in order to nip chronic lameness in the bud, rather than waiting for more severe signs of lameness.
Here is a short video on how to find a digital pulse:
If you would like to discuss diet options for your horse, we offer nutrition consults. We generally find it beneficial to do a site visit, but times being as they are, we can do this via email or messenger. If you go on to buy Sound Advice products the consult fee is waived. However, you are not obliged to buy any of our products. Many horse owners have found that by eliminating unnecessary feeds, or dropping supplements that were counteracting each other, or finding cheaper alternatives to feeds they were already using, the consult fee paid itself back very rapidly.