Obesity in Horses

Obesity in Horses


Most horses are not terribly concerned about their body image or how they’ll look in a bathing suit, but obesity comes with a plethora of health risks that are far more important.  Obesity is a growing problem for horses due to overfeeding and inadequate exercise.  Many horse owners take their feed recommendations from the feed companies who are promoting their premium formulas, while plenty of horses would be fine with standard grains or hay alone.  Horses evolved to spend many hours a day moving so short training sessions do not burn many calories in comparison.  Improvements in pasture management and deworming have also increased the average horse’s calorie intake.  Excessive body fat puts a lot of stress on the horse’s internal organs and joints which can lead to insulin-resistance, laminitis, hormonal disorders, cancer and arthritis.


When a horse eats, its body metabolizes the food into glucose which travels through the bloodstream to various tissues where it is used for energy.  Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose in the blood to enter the tissue cells.  Horses that are consuming too much sugar & starch are flooding their body with too much glucose and eventually the insulin becomes ineffective leading to a condition called insulin resistance.  If your horse is insulin resistant you should restrict the sugar, starch and fat in their diet and increase their exercise to help them lose weight.


Another complication of excessive starch in the diet is laminitis.  New research is suggesting that laminitis can occur if a horse regularly consumes high quantities of food that break down in to simple sugar causing elevated blood sugar as in the case of insulin resistance.  Horses usually graze on hay or grass all day so their body is used to their food slowly fermenting in their gut.  Horses sensitive to sugars in the body can experience inflammation and tearing of the hoof wall from the internal structures of the hoof, also known as laminitis.  The combination of insulin resistance and chronic laminitis is called equine metabolic syndrome and is often related to obesity.






Dietary supplementation with short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides improves insulin sensitivity in obese horses.


Relationships among inflammatory cytokines, obesity, and insulin sensitivity in the horse.


Preliminary investigation into a potential role for myostatin and its receptor (ActRIIB) in lean and obese horses and ponies.


Fibre digestibility, abundance of faecal bacteria and plasma acetate concentrations in overweight adult mares.


Estradiol binds to insulin and insulin receptor decreasing insulin binding in vitro.


Metabolic syndrome: is equine disease comparable to what we know in humans?


Diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome in horses.


Post-mortem stability of RNA in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and the tissue-specific expression of myostatin, perilipin and associated factors in the horse.