In some equestrian disciplines, horses that carry a bit of extra flesh are smiled upon. But almost invariably, excess weight can put an equine athlete at a performance disadvantage, says Megan L. Shepherd, clinical assistant professor at Virginia-Maryland College. Extra pounds can increase health risks such as laminitis, heat stress, musculoskeletal injuries, and reproductive problems. Lean is better, Shepherd confirms, and during the 2020 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held virtually, she outlined a plan to trim down overweight performance horses.

Safe diet strategy promotes weight loss without triggering metabolic, gastrointestinal, or behavioral problems. Using Henneke’s equine body condition scoring (BCS, a scale of 1-9), the goal is to reduce the horse’s body condition score by no more than one per month. An ideal score for most of our equine athletes is a 4 or 5—moderately thin to moderate. The key to healthy weight loss is a forage-based ration. Using a weight tape, begin by recording the horse’s current weight and body condition score. Then determine his “target weight” based on size, breed, and desired BCS. She suggests that the same person remain in charge of the weight tape, so the horse gets measured the same way each time. Monitor changes every two to four weeks. Feed 2% BW on DM basis/day. Feeding hay based on weight is practical approach. Once the horse reaches his target weight, based on BCS rather than actual pounds, reevaluate and adjust the ration to ensure the horse is getting the nutrients he needs to thrive and compete.