Help for the Fat Horse

Why are some horses incessantly hungry?

When your horse puts on weight he produces more of a hormone called leptin which is produced in white fat deposits in the body.

Levels of leptin are directly associated with total amounts of fat, the more fat there is the more leptin is produced.

PIC: The tell-tale metabolic ‘look’: cresty & lumpy. This horse’s diet has been too high in sugars and starches.



Leptin is supposed to supervise regulation of appetite and food intake by telling the body it has eaten enough for now.
It also has other effects on the immune system and on temperature regulation.

The problem is that overweight horses produce large amounts of leptin, but their brains aren't getting the important signal to stop eating. This is called ‘leptin resistance’ where the appetite does not decrease; instead the horse keeps on eating!

Hence ‘Leptin resistance’ is similar to insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas produces large amounts of insulin, but the body doesn't respond to it properly.

Horses that are ‘insulin resistant’ (or have Metabolic Syndrome’ characterized by fat deposits along the neck, down the spine, tail head, shoulders, chest, or even above the eyes) suffer from underlying chronic inflammation and are prone to ‘leptin resistance’ with associated incessant hunger (which obviously increases the likelihood of laminitis).

Horses that have been fed ‘meals’ as opposed to having forage available 24/7 are also liable to become ‘leptin resistant’ because they lose the ability to ‘self-regulate’ food intake.

Both ‘insulin resistance’ and ‘leptin resistance’ can be reversed by:

-taking steps to reduce weight of the over-weight horse

-ensuring availability of suitable (low nutrient density) hay at all times especially when restricting grass intake

-implementing appropriate exercise regimes

-keeping the diet low in sugars & starches (but with some quality protein eg from MVA or ShapeUp)

-addressing mineral imbalances


Using Computer Programs for Balancing Diets...

This is one of those times when, if doing so has been working well for your horse in your situation, then obviously continue. But for others it is important to understand the limitations, mainly that there are vital aspects of bio-chemistry that computer programs cannot take into account.

The idea relies on everything being static rather than dynamic; in other words it works best on horses who are fed hay from the same source every¬†day which can be analysed once. For pasture fed horses the nutrients obtained from his grass can only be based on a snapshot of the day the sample was taken and seasonal /daily/ weather related fluctuations which influence the content of the grass can’t be taken into account.

A computer program doesn’t know that your horse may be grass-affected and this makes a big difference to balancing his diet. For instance normal horses handle the high potassium levels of grass/Lucerne/soy. But a grass-affected horse needs increased quantities of certain minerals to help it cope with the effects of the high potassium.

A very important point is that it is not just about feeding the right quantities of various nutrients. Ratios and interactions need are extremely important and there are many of them to consider, not just one or two.

Then there is whether various minerals are supplied in an organic or inorganic. One example is iron. Due to the fact that horses are always nibbling around close to the dirt they are not likely to ever become deficient in iron. The inorganic iron added to some products can interfere with copper & zinc absorption, amongst other things. But the same isn’t true for organic iron because it is chelated (already attached to an amino acid) and therefore isn’t available to latch onto anything it shouldn’t.

Feed your horse to balance the forage that makes up his staple diet. Get familiar with the signs that he is ‘not right’ that are listed on the Health Check and make adjustments to his mineral intake accordingly.

Feeding a horse is actually pretty simple once you understand the principles of the diet. (See Dietary Principles for a Calm, Healthy Horse )

The reason horses become ‘Grass Affected’ is because their own in-built ability to balance vital minerals sooner or later becomes exhausted and/or inefficient.

A horse in his natural habitat can handle temporary imbalances (eg spring and Autumn flushes which may last a relatively short time) but they eventually malfunction when exposed to a chronically imbalanced diet that is the result of grazing a ‘green carpet’ of vegetative grass most of the year.

Observe, remember, compare and if you aren’t sure Ask Us!!

Our horses looking and feeling good on the simple diet of hay, very small plain feeds with high spec Premium MVA minerals!