The Equine Lifestyle

Do our horses have it too easy?

I have never had an insulin-resistant (IR) horse, and I’ve had many of the IR-prone breeds. Many of my friends have never had an insulin-resistant horse either. But it made us think. Why is this happening? And how have we avoided it?

 IR used to be only associated with Cushing’s disease, but now even young horses are at risk. I’ve read that a number of insulin-resistance diagnoses aren’t even made until after the veterinarian treats the horse for founder! 

Of course, horses didn’t used to be so fat, said Ken Marcella, DVM, in DVM360 magazine: “The first study to look at the problem of the overweight horse was done in 1998 by the National Animal Health Monitoring System for the United States Department of Agriculture, which estimated that roughly 5 percent of horses in America at that time were overweight. 

 “A 2006 study undertaken at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine showed that, in eight years, that number had skyrocketed to 51 percent, with 19 percent of those horses classified as obese.” 

This sounds like what is happening to the human population in the U.S., with increasing numbers for overweight and obese adults and children and corresponding issues such as diabetes.

It’s easy to see how we’ve become a nation of couch potatoes and fast-food addicts, but how has this happened to our horses? Are they now mostly living in stalls rather than pastures and getting by each day without any real work?

Think about what humans need to be healthy and then take charge of your horse’s health in the same way. It’s ridiculous to sit by and let this occur.
First, get control of your horse’s weight. Granted, not every fat horse becomes insulin-resistant, but fat is bad. If the pasture is too lush, fence off a small area so that you control his consumption or use a muzzle. He cannot eat 24/7 if he’s too fat. It’s that simple.

Next, exercise. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Remember why you wanted a horse—to ride. If you can’t ride or drive, put a lead on him and go for a walk. Make yourself move. Make your horse move.

Take a look at your horse’s diet. Does he really need a concentrate? Do a hay analysis. Supplement only what he needs, and choose a pellet so you don’t have to use a carrier. 

Finally, reduce the horse’s stress. If turnout is not an option, then get out to the barn every single day and do something with your horse. Brush him. Take him out to hand graze. Let him enjoy the company of friends. Horses are herd animals. They need to socialize.

We need to stop this cycle and get back to the basics of horsemanship. It’s sad to think that insulin-resistant horses can’t even eat apples or carrots because they’re too sweet. That isn’t what any of us want for our horses. 

Cynthia Foley, Editor-in-Chief

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