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Horse InspirationUncategorized

The weighty conversation!

By February 20, 2023 No Comments
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Overweight horses and weight loss is a tricky task to tackle for any horse owner.

Like humans, the key is to increase muscle mass and as a result increase the basal metabolic rate. This in simple terms means you are increasing the daily amount of calories you can eat and maintain the same weight, along with working on a slight calorie deficit (slightly less food).

It is about the diet, but it’s even more about their movement.

Horses are designed to graze and eat for long periods of time, so reducing calories is fraught with the juggle to ensure you maintain a minimum amount of roughage for mental and physical wellbeing.

The reason I am talking about the mental aspect of eating for horses early on, is that going for long periods without food standing doing nothing isn’t how they are designed. It will impact their demeanour and energy for ridden work if not consuming enough calories. Put yourself in their shoes and try going to the gym on restricted calories and feel excited about it!

So often I have had clients tell me they can’t get their horses to move forward, and the more I work with overweight horses and fitness the more I’m realising, they are hungry and lacking energy!

Rhett was a client that came to me while his owner was really busy with work, she had already started the weight loss fitness journey but needed some help. Rhett was lazy, but after a few days of increased intake, protein (small amount of lupins), fats (linseed meal) and a good supplement he was forward and his work ethic had changed!

Weight loss is about ensuring your horse still has a balanced diet and consuming a minimum amount of forage which for weight loss is around 1.5-2% of their bodyweight. The tapes you measure around the stomach are not accurate and if you are heading down the weight loss journey, visit the vet for a check up and accurate weight. So often the volume of food is reduced way beyond their minimum requirements due to this being inaccurate. It is however, more about reducing the calories from the type of forages and concentrates you choose, along with changing the way you feed to use slow feeder nets increasing the time it takes to eat the same volume.

There are some amazing nutritionists out there and it is really important you seek some advice. Even during weight loss it is important that horses still have adequate nutrition, vitamins and minerals to maintain healthy function. Rhett’s diet was completely balanced even in a slight calorie deficit and he still had an amazing transformation in just 5 weeks – In fact he was being fed way more with me than he had ever been!

Again, the process really is about increasing muscle mass along with diet changes and not always restriction.

This is where I quickly talk about amino acids before moving on to the fitness and strength part.

Horses require a total of 20 amino acids to build their body’s proteins. The horse’s own body can make 11 of those amino acids but does not have the ability to create the remaining nine it needs. If embarking on any strength and fitness journey consider adding products such as ‘Mo’s Magic Muscle Mix’ which is a unique combination of NaCl, L-Lysine, Methionine and Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) mixed in specific ratios to help the development, strength and health of muscles and soft tissues. This was something I included in Rhett’s diet and it was amazing!

In any change to fitness and movement it is important to check in with your vet or bodyworker to ensure your horse is comfortable, sound and doesn’t have any physical concerns before making changes.

Walking – this is underrated in both horses and humans. In the wild horses walk around 30-80km a day and when you compare this to the average horse that lives in a small ¼ acre paddock its easy to see how the ‘good doers’ gain weight due to the fact they are just not moving enough. The key to weight loss for horses is walk, walk and more walking!

Rhett stayed with me and we went for daily walks in hand, ponied off another horse and a few ridden every week. These were in addition to strength work in the arena that was increased incrementally over the five weeks. Hand walking your horse that needs to lose weight is a brilliant way to spend time with them without impacting their back or joint health while overweight.

Also important in the process was core development and suppleness from stretching, with the inclusion of laterals, some basic gymnastics and poles.

You can take a look at Rhett’s detailed plan here.

There are some key factors to consider in starting or increasing fitness for horses:

Increase duration slowly – don’t go from nothing to 45minutes, start slowly with just 15-20 minutes and incrementally increase each week.

Increase the intensity slowly – Horses need at least a few weeks walking before being strong enough for trot. When we increase the work too quickly, this can result in muscle and joint pain leading to tension and soundness issues.

Consider the surface – Be careful to not overwork your horse on either a really hard or soft surface, this again can impact soft tissue such as tendon and ligaments along with muscle and joint. You need to consider surface and incrementally build them up to adjust to these changes.

Look after their body – regular bodywork and vet care is important in any fitness program, make sure you check in to ensure they are using their body correctly and not holding uneven tension that could be impacting straightness and biomechanics.

It was really important for Rhett that we followed all the principles, he was a heavy build to start with and it was really important to consider his joints in the process. He is a great case study to share as the result is a fit horse, that has a brilliant work ethic and is still loving life and his food!

The vet is very happy with his progress!

Don’t be quick to think it’s all about restriction of food for weight loss – walking and controlled exercise in a sound healthy horse is a brilliant way to improve their body composition.

We have one fit, sexy looking ClydieX – but we all know I am biased owning two of my own!

Jem and Den

Author Jem and Den

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