Maintaining a healthy weight is a big problem that gets lots of publicity in humans but it has also become a problem in the equine population too! Native breeds can be particularly prone to this, often being “good-doers” but it can affect any breed or age of horse. This can be a serious welfare issue leading to many diseases including insulin resistance, Equine metabolic syndrome and Laminitis.
We want to help keep horses slim to prevent any of these problems occurring, so knowing how to assess if a horse is overweight, too thin or just right is really important.
Firstly, we use body condition scoring, this looks at how well you can see/feel ribs, crest of neck and shape of bottom, among other things. Looking at your horse and comparing
each individual body area can help judge their weight better. The scale is from 1 to 5. Body condition score 1 being very thin, easily able to see ribs, this is not something we see often at all! Score 5 is obese, with fat pads over shoulders, fat either side of spine, unable to feel ribs and a thick, hard crest. For more advice on how to body condition score go to www.bluecross.org.uk/horse/advice.
The ideal weight and body condition for a horse is usually quoted as 2-3 although every horse is different, a fit thoroughbred will be a different shape to a fit show cob! Body condition scoring is a very useful measure of not just your horses weight but overall condition, as every horse has a unique shape and so a system looking at the whole horse is better than just looking. For example, if you can feel their ribs or if they have a hard crest. So the ideal body condition for any horse should take into account their breed, type and level of work, so it’s a very individual thing! If you have any concerns about your horses weight, whether they are losing weight or gaining weight too quickly, please contact us on 08458 330034 and we wil be happy to discuss it with you.
The most accurate method of weighing a horse is to use a weigh-bridge. These are platforms which horses walk onto and their weight is measured electronically. We have one of these at our Somerford clinic which we use for any horses coming in for anaesthetics to allow us to accurately dose them. There are also feed companies which will bring weighbridges onto yards for weight checks.
Another tool is a weigh tape.
These are designed to estimate the body weight from its circumference. This is a valuable tool for any horse, as it helps more accurately estimate a horse’s weight. This allows you to dose wormers and other medication more accurately. Studies have shown that correctly used weigh tapes are not significantly different to a weighbridge. This makes them a very useful part of every owner’s tack cupboard. They are available from us for £6 each with an instruction leaflet. For more information contact us on 0845 8330034.
All of these things can be used together to judge our horse's weight but also to monitor changes in weight, whether it be sudden weight loss due to illness, weight gain due to rich pasture, or reduced work or slow weight loss/gain due to a diet and exercise program. Whichever it is, by regularly assessing your horse you will be able to spot changes quicker and track their health better!
How to use a weigh tape:
1Make sure that your horse is standing square on a level surface. Choose the horse or pony side of the tape. Horses are those over 14.2hh, ponies under 14.2hh.
2Hold the black block in one hand and pass the rest of the tape over the lowest point of your horse’s withers.
3Bring the tape up under the horse’s stomach as close to the elbow as possible. Make sure the tape is not twisted and it lies flat against the coat.
4If you are using the tape in the correct position it will make a slightly diagonal line from the lowest point of the withers towards the elbow, it will not be a vertical straight line.
5Read the number opposite the white line at the end of the black block.
1Use the tape at the same time of day each time, as horses, like people, will lose and regain bodyweight over 24 hours. In horses it is approximately 3% of bodyweight.
2Don’t leave your hands under the tape when you are reading it, or it will be inaccurate.
3Be careful to place it correctly. It should not be where the girth runs, not around your horse’s stomach and not at the highest point of the withers.
4Keep a record of the measurements as it will help you track changes in weight easily and quickly.
FARM AND EQUINE The Barn, Holly Tree Farm, Holmes Chapel Road, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 9DT