Katy Starr (00:01):
Hi, I'm Katy.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:02):
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Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn, Dr. Cubitt. We are here celebrating Beyond the Barn's second year anniversary episode today.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:16):
I'm so excited we've come such a long way.
Katy Starr (01:19):
I know. I mean, just to think that we've been doing this for two years already and it's just gone over so well with listeners, just the topics that we've been covering and so it's just, it's really nice to see that we're giving out information that's useful and helpful to horse owners.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:35):
Katy Starr (01:36):
So today, before we get started on today's topic, any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast are more generalized and not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. Be sure to always work with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can reach out to us to talk directly with Dr. Cubitt or Dr. Duren on specifics you'd like to know. And Dr. Cubitt, today we're talking about obesity in horses, which is unfortunately more common than we'd like to see.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (02:14):
It is. It is, and I think it's because, like I've done presentations before where I show the audience a picture of a really thin horse and I get a guttural response that they, you know, that's gut-wrenching and they need to do something about it and call the Humane Society, do whatever they can, call the police. It's a big deal. And then I show them a picture of a morbidly overweight horse and they just kind of laugh and giggle, oh, you know, fat's the best color. So I think there's a public perception with horses as well, and whilst being really thin is dangerous and you want to fix that, so is being overweight and actually being overweight can have much more lasting effects on our animals, on our horses. So I think that's kind of the start of it.
Katy Starr (03:01):
Right. And I think that's a great thing to point out because people don't always see that perspective and understanding that overweight horse can lead to some very troublesome issues that could come down the road with other things. And yeah, that's what we're going to be talking about today. So first of all, how can you determine if your horse is overweight? What are some of the signs that you could look for or be able to identify, you know, if your horse is overweight.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (03:29):
You know, me as a professional, it's just straight up looking at the horse. We have some really great tools. In America we use, well around the world there's body condition scoring system. In Australia, they use a one to five system, but here in America we use a one to nine system, where one is emaciated and nine is morbidly obese, four is kind of a gray area. I always say five or six is ideal. A lot of them will say four to six is ideal, where seven to nine, you know, you're in the overweight to obese category and then one, two, and three, you're underweight. And I think that we've got links to that on our website that we can share with people. But body condition scoring, you have to put your hand on the horse. You can follow along with the pictures. Can you feel for bones? Do you have to press really hard to find the rib bones, for example, you average out the whole horse. Sometimes horses get older and you start to see a little top line sticking out, but they still have fat pads. So that is the easiest way to determine if your horse is overweight, simply looking physically at their appearance.
Katy Starr (04:37):
And you've mentioned before, I mean people tend to have a bias with their horses, right? And so if you have a hard time identifying that yourself, that's where having you know, a good vet on your team, a good equine nutritionist, those type of people can help you look at it from an unbiased perspective to identify that as well.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (04:58):
Absolutely. I mean there have been studies done, there are surveys looking at a group of horses where the owner of the horse is surveyed, is your horse overweight, underweight, perfect weight you know, that kind of thing, body condition scoring. And then they took veterinarians and body condition scored the same horses and about 50% of horses, the owners said they're not overweight, they're ideal body condition score. And the veterinarian said these horses are overweight. So yeah, it really comes down to having a good idea of what is ideal. And I think that unfortunately there are certain show disciplines that reward horses for being overweight and that is something that we're really as an industry trying to correct. So when judges are awarding ponies or horses for being overweight, then of course horse owners who are showing in those disciplines are going to think, well this is an ideal or perfect body weight because that's what gets me a blue ribbon. So it's an overall culture shift, which we're definitely working on. Dr. Shannon Pratt from North Carolina State University has done some of those surveys most recently as well.
Katy Starr (06:18):
Oh, interesting. Okay. And you talked about the body condition scoring system there. How did that become a standard for identifying weight management in horses? Where did that come about?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (06:29):
It came about from the University of Texas or Texas A & M, sorry, Texas A & M. And it was a graduate student project many years ago and then really just became the standard. Now if you look at any other livestock industry, there are also body condition scoring systems, which really just measure an idea of body fatness. You know, body weight is great when we're trying to determine, you know, how much vaccine to give, how much dewormer to give, how much feed to give. But it doesn't give you an estimate of actual condition. So that's really where the body condition scoring system came from.
Katy Starr (07:10):
Okay. And so when we're looking at ideal weights for horses, how do you factor in the breed of the horse? Are there varying ideal weight ranges depending on the breed?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (07:20):
That is interesting and that is some newer research that has been done primarily at the University of Minnesota. They've been looking at ideal body weights and it's not something that we routinely use in the equine industry, but it is something that certain groups are working on because let's say I say a thousand pounds, then for most people that sounds like an ideal body weight. Okay, well what if I'm talking about a pony that should be five hundred pounds and he's double his body weight, so he's morbidly overweight or am I talking about a Clydesdale or a Shire and he's only a thousand pounds, so he's super skinny. So ideal body weight, certainly for different breeds. But then you also have to think about kind of conditioning. Some horses, even within a breed I've, I can look at thoroughbreds that it's more based on body type. We have some more really refined thoroughbreds versus some thoroughbreds that that are more stocky. And as we start to get breeds that are more diverse and are mixed, let's say the horse has some Arabian bloodlines, some warm bloodlines, some thoroughbred, some quarter horse, and then, okay, what's the ideal body weight for that horse? So really the body condition score is the most universal way of scoring a horse's condition at this point.
Katy Starr (08:44):
Based on a horse, like per horse?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (08:47):
Per horse, yeah, because it's so individual doesn't take into account breed, doesn't take into account what exercise they're doing, it just literally looks at the horse in front of you. And how you scientifically do it is there are multiple sections. You look along the neck, over the withers, kind of the tail head, where you would do up the girth and you would score every one of those areas between a one and a nine and then you would average all of those. Now obviously we don't do that. Typically when you're out there in the field, you just kind of look at all those areas and formulate an average number in your head. And it's not perfect. Like no system is perfect because I guarantee if you score a horse and I score a horse, we'll probably score them different. So it is very subjective, but it is the best that we have so far.
Katy Starr (09:35):
And if somebody was wanting to kind of get an idea of the weight of their horse, but let's say that they don't have easy access to getting their horse to a scale, how could they even get an estimate or an idea?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (09:49):
So the simplest one that's been around for a while that is certainly flawed is a weight tape, right? And so you take this weight tape, looks like a big measuring tape and you put it around the girth of the horse and it'll give you an estimate of body weight. It works best for average size horses, so thoroughbreds, quarter horses. Because really it just takes into account the barrel of the horse, not the legs and the neck. And from that we realized, oh, okay, what if I'm trying to get an estimate of weight on a foal or a horse that is a little bit disproportionate from the standard. Then again, University of Minnesota is the one that's done a lot of this research. It started out there was a standardized calculation that you could do using the girth measurement and then the length of the horse from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (10:44):
And there was some other kind of numbers that you were put into that equation and that would give you an idea of body weight. And now the University of Minnesota has actually broken that down into breed. So they've got an ideal weight equation for an Arabian, a draft type breed, a miniature horse based on also based on age above three or under three, a pony, saddle type horses, stock type horses, thoroughbred and a warm blood. So they're the first group that's really broken it out and given slightly different equations, still all using that length and height value. But they've got some other values in there that take into account the different shape of those horses.
Katy Starr (11:33):
There's a number of reasons why horses can become overweight, but do some breeds tend to be thriftier than others?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (11:40):
Yes, 100%. I mean, ultimately if a horse eats too much and doesn't do enough exercise, they get overweight. But some horses are just a lot more adept or thrifty as we use, at turning that food that they eat into calories, usable calories. And those calories are either going to be used for energy and exercise or laid down as extra condition. So if we look at our pony type breeds, they are very easy keepers. They come originally, they originate in very sparsely populated with you know, minimal grass species and they walked long distances and the grasses and the forbs and the shrubs that they were eating were low calories. So they got really good at converting those into usable calories in nutrition. And now when most of our horses, you know, have McDonald's on tap pretty much, they have the best quality hay, they don't have to move very far to get their food. We give them, you know, concentrated nutrition in the form of commercial feeds. So those horses that have that thrifty genotype, it just makes it even worse.
Katy Starr (12:56):
Right. So you have to be careful with, if you have one of those
Dr. Tania Cubitt (12:59):
Yeah it is. And so you know, back in the day people would think, oh a hard keeper. So the a horse that's hard to keep weight on that, that was really hard to feed. Oh my gosh, I'm just constantly feeding it to maintain its body weight. Ultimately for me as a nutritionist, that's the easiest horse to feed because once you've determined there's no like underlying disease that is causing them to be thin, you just keep feeding them. But a fat horse or a horse with thrifty jeans and that's really easy to put weight on, it's so hard to feed that horse because you know there's only a certain amount of restrictive diet you can impose on the horse before you're starving them and then causing all kinds of other issues like colic or gastric ulcers or stereotypic behaviors because they're chewing your stall down. So a thrifty horse is hard to feed.
Katy Starr (13:52):
And I would like to add in as a side note, since we're discussing thriftier equines and we've talked about donkeys and mules on the podcast before. For anyone who'd like to hear more about nutrition for donkeys, mules and hinnies, please check out episode 30. But donkeys are quite thrifty and can easily become overweight if we're not careful. And on that episode, Dr. Duren mentioned that donkeys have been documented to have a rate of metabolism that's 20% lower than a horse. So donkeys need fewer calories than horses to maintain their body weight.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:25):
Katy Starr (14:25):
And I always find that tidbit so interesting, but I wanted to throw that in there since we were talking about that topic there. I know that we've talked quite a bit about body condition scoring already, but let's talk a little bit more about it in this moment about weight management for horses and how it's used across the world.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (14:45):
Yeah, and I didn't mention earlier, but it was actually first published in 1983 and the goal was to have one standardized system that could be used across all breeds without special equipment to visually and by, you know, palpating a horse to assess their condition. And actually this system is used by law enforcement's agencies as well to assess body condition cruelty cases. So it's a quick way that they can be easily trained to initially evaluate a horse.
Katy Starr (15:17):
Yeah, no I think that's a great resource that would be very beneficial for all horse owners to become familiar with, to make sure that they're keeping their horses healthy and on the right side of things. So we've talked a lot about, you know, what those numbers mean, what's more overweight, underweight, what's right about at the ideal range. You've talked about tips for body condition scoring. Another thing that is a little close to home for you is cresty neck scoring. So how does that fall into play when we're talking about overweight horses?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (15:55):
Yes, so this came into play while I was a graduate student, myself and another graduate student. It was her PhD student, Dr. Rebecca Carter. And the idea was we were looking, our research program had looked a lot at glucose and insulin dynamics and looked at laminitis and metabolic syndrome in horses. And we were fortunate enough to have a herd of ponies that had been really well documented from the three or four ponies that were originally imported from Europe. And then all of the ponies had been documented their bloodlines and their lineage from that. So there was really good history and what was found was there were two distinct phenotypes, so visually looking ponies. There were ponies that were fat overall and had a cresty neck. They also were the ponies that seemed to do much better in the show ring. But then there was another phenotype of pony that was fat overall but had more of a flat neck and didn't have that crest.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (16:58):
And so for a long time we've always kind of known, oh the cresty neck, ponies with the cresty neck, they're more at risk of getting laminitis or these metabolic issues. So we wanted to actually, well Becky, it was her project. She really wanted to kind of scientifically put some more parameters on that. So she actually developed a scoring system for the neck. And so it's a one to five system or it's actually a zero to five system, where zero it's kind of upside down, one and two there's no palpable crest, three pretty normal, you know, we start to see a little bit of a muscular crest and then a four and a five definitely starts to see more fat deposits there on the neck and what we found, yeah, those horses that showed a cresty neck, regardless of overall body condition, the cresty neck was more of an risk indicator for them developing metabolic syndrome. So irregular glucose and insulin metabolism and then eventually laminitis. So it's been very, very valuable to horse owners in evaluating cause there there's a lot of horses that maybe don't look that fat but are starting to develop a crest. That's the horse you've got to be careful with.
Katy Starr (18:17):
And what number on that scale would be worrisome for you if you were looking at it, what do you want to see the number at?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:25):
I want to see it a two or a three. You know, one, two or three is fine. Zero usually you're not going to see, that's kind of an underweight and it's upside down. Nobody really wants to see that. But one, two and three, they're all fine. Three, okay. It's more likely to be slightly overweight but ultimately in the field four and a five, that's terrible. Like if you're at a three, you don't want your horse to get any bigger. You should probably be monitoring them with spring grass and monitoring their diet that they're not eating a lot of high sugar starch foods. But four and a five, you definitely know you've got problems.
Katy Starr (19:03):
Do you have any tips for, you know, if somebody had a horse that they were kind of noticing that with, I mean I would hope that they're working with their veterinarian and everything, but do you have any tips for cresty neck scoring for horse owners?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (19:17):
Well, you know, just like the body condition scoring system, it is subjective, right? And so one of the big questions I get is, well how do I know it's just not, you know, if you look at a dressage horse, they have a really nice, well-developed, strong muscular neck. Is that a cresty neck that I should be concerned about? Or is it just part of their breed and part of their conditioning? You know, I've really as a rider develop this very strong neck and when I'm in front of people I kind of do this little trick where I stand and I bend my knees so that I'm kind of crouching a little bit and that makes your quad muscles in the front of your legs engage. And then if you feel those, they're hard, right? That's what a good muscular neck feels like. And then I know this isn't for everybody, but you just stand up straight and you stand loosely and you start to squeeze your butt.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (20:13):
It's a little , at least on me, it's a little softer. Yeah. And that softer tissue is what more of a fat crest would feel like. And also stallions, I mean stallions, that's just a normal part of being stallion is that they develop that crest. It's like the peacock feather. It's big, but you just want to make sure that it's not squishy. The other thing that sometimes you can feel if the crest is really fat, it almost feels like that crunchy, like the not quite that it's popping but you know, bubble wrap it, if you squeeze the neck, it's kind of squishy and poppy sounding. And then worst case scenario, which I have seen and I see it a lot in donkeys and mini donkeys especially, is the nuchal ligaments. So the ligaments in the top of the neck that hold the muscles in place, actually they just can't withstand the load and the whole crest flops over to the side.
Katy Starr (21:06):
You know what that actually, I saw an image last night that was not a good one at all. It actually looked like, cause you know, a normal healthy neck if you're sitting on the horse is straight and it looked like a snake.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (21:19):
Yes it does!
Katy Starr (21:21):
And I was like, wow, that does not look good at all.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (21:24):
I first saw it, I went to a show and it was like a beautiful Lipizzaner Spanish horse show. And I was like, wow, what is wrong with that horse's neck? And that had happened, it flopped over to the side. Typically these horses are also going to have, at that point when they have a four or five, they've probably got some other weird fat deposits like a square backside and big fat deposits at the wither and where you would do up the girth as well. But yeah, the crest, it's kind of like a man's belly fat. You know, there's been a lot of research and human nutrition looking at abdominal fat in, especially in males that gives a person a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease. And so a crest on a horse is like that.
Katy Starr (22:11):
So with obesity, obviously there are other health issues that can stem from it in horses if it's not taken care of. What other things should we be concerned about if we let it go too far gone?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (22:24):
Oh, so many things. So many things. I'm so glad you asked that because you know, we all think about, oh, laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. But even before that, I mean hoof issues, leg and joint issues, especially if these are hunter ponies where or jumpers that, you’re riding them and they're jumping. So now not only are they overweight just walking around, but they're jumping over fences. That's a lot of impact, extra impact on their legs. Our horses are living longer so it's not like, oh you know, this fat horse is living with this until they're 12 or 13. Some horses are living until they're 35 or 40. And so that's a long time. Interferes with reproductive function, you know, mares that are overweight will not cycle properly. Think about thermoregulation. So you live in a hotter part of the country, these horses can't regulate their temperature very well. They'll overheat, they'll run the risk of a heat stress. So there's just so many things that can be affected. And see once your horse is overweight, the longer they're overweight, the more it shifts their hormones. And then it doesn't matter whether you get the body weight off them or not, their hormones are forever shifted. This is why I say being overweight and especially for a long period of time, is much more dangerous than being thin. You certainly have long lasting impacts from being overweight and the longer that an animal is overweight, the more those kinds of negative effects show up. And they’re hard to get rid of.
Katy Starr (24:06):
It's not good news at all, that's for sure.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (24:09):
It isn't. It isn't. And so, you know, I have horse owners that, oh really, my horse can never eat spring grass again? Or worst-case scenario, my horse can never eat grass again? Why do I have this farm and now my horse can't eat grass? And it's like, ah, well you know, these are issues that we have created. You also, you think about in the wild, like why wild horses don't have this issue. We have also for our own convenience and we do it with love, we really just kill them with kindness definitely. But we have completely taken environment out of a horse’s life, right? In the wintertime, horses would lose weight maybe a hundred pounds, 150 pounds and that was completely normal. So they, in the summer, well let's say in the fall there's a flush of grass, they eat a bunch, they put on some weight, they lose that over the wintertime and then the spring grass is there and they can eat all the spring grass they want and not have any problems and they gain weight. And then in the middle of summer the grass drops off again. We constantly have these ups and downs and changes in body weight and that's completely normal. Now, we put horses in stalls, and we blanket them. So really they don't have any of the extra calorie requirement for trying to stay warm. They don't have seasonal availability in nutrition. So year round they get the same amount of calories. So I think that's how management has also changed and made it just so much easier for obesity to creep in.
Katy Starr (25:41):
So now let's get into diet and exercise management for overweight horses. First off, are the nutritional requirements different for maintenance horses versus obese horses?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (25:53):
Okay, so when it comes to nutrition, when we think about zinc, copper, selenium, no there's no differences. But in the most recent, and I say this with a little bit of grain of salt. So the most recent nutritional requirements for horses was published in 2007 and it's six revised edition. In that one, what we actually saw, we broke out energy requirements for maintenance into easy keeper, hard keeper, and then normal. So it's really just looking at caloric intake. But when it comes to like zinc, copper, protein, that kind of thing, it's all the same.
Katy Starr (26:37):
And a few episodes ago, actually, episode 50, we talked about the top 10 feeding mistakes that horse owners make, based off of your experience as a PhD, equine nutritionist. Number two on that list was overfeeding. So obesity is likely to be a result from that behavior. What are some tips that you have to prevent overfeeding?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (27:01):
Yeah, and I, when we talked about it, it's not that people are intentionally, well some people are, but most people are not intentionally overfeeding their horse because oh they think he's thin and they want him to gain more weight. It's more just not being super diligent about measuring out exactly what you're feeding your horse. We feed our horses in scoops and everybody has a different scoop. And I guarantee again, if you and I scooped the same scoop with the same feed, it would weigh different. And when we're talking about thousand pound plus animal, they're not eating a measuring cup a day. They're eating, you know, anywhere from a pound a day to 12 pounds a day of concentrate. And so when you're scooping that, you could have huge amounts of overkill. So if you look at any other livestock animal, chickens, pigs, cows, they're measuring, they're weighing, they know exactly what those animals are eating and not an ounce more because that would cost a lot of extra money.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (28:12):
But with horses, I think if we just tighten up a little bit, get a bit of better understanding of what a pound or five pounds of hay feels like. Make sure that when we're measuring out feed use a scoop that's easier to kind of, if you're saying it's a whole scoop that it's easy and everybody knows what a whole scoop is, it's not a heaping scoop and it's not a shake down scoop, it's just one scoop. And always start out your feeding program by now, okay, well we're going to feed six pounds or we're going to feed a pound. And then you weigh that, a kitchen scale, a cheap kitchen scale in your feed room is the best thing that you can have. Because then you can just frequently check. And then any new person that comes in that's feeding, they can see, okay, I know I have to feed a pound of this. So where is a pound for me? The way I scoop it and with my strength, where is a pound? So I think that will help a lot.
Katy Starr (29:12):
How often, based on your experience, would you say a horse is overweight? Because it tends to be just a thriftier breed in general or it's just because a horse owner is probably more consistently over feeding?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (29:26):
Oh, the majority of the time. They are the primary reasons why horses are overweight along with this lack of visual understanding from horse owners as to what is overweight. For me, I look at a horse and I might say, oh that's overweight. And everybody else in the room will think I'm insane and say no, that horse is perfect. So I think we have to, as educators, share more images of ideal body condition and body shape and we need to get certain disciplines to stop rewarding horses that are overweight. I mean there was a big thing in Europe, in England looking at some of the cob type breeds and the shows. I mean some of these horses are just ginormous and they're winning blue ribbons and then it becomes really heated and personal and emotional when people say, oh that horse should not have been awarded because it's overweight. So you know, maybe they have a really good confirmation but they're also overweight so.
Katy Starr (30:35):
Right. Well and at the end of the day, we're here for the horse, right? We should be.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (30:41):
We are. Yes. We should be. And so I think if we can just change the idea in people's minds of what healthy weight and overweight is, then that will help as well.
Katy Starr (30:54):
So if you have an overweight horse, what are some example type hays that you'd want to avoid feeding your horse? What would be ideal for overweight horses?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (31:05):
So if a horse is overweight, you want to avoid alfalfa. And the reason is it's high in calories, right? And these horses don't need calories. Now there's a lot of other great things about alfalfa. It's high in calcium, which helps with gastric ulcers. It's low in sugars and starches. So if you have a horse with metabolic issues then it can be good for them. But it does have extra calories. So I lean away from it. For the most part, when I have an overweight horse. There are some really ideal grass species. Like your warm season grasses tend to store less sugar and starch and have a slightly lower nutritional value. Teff grass is a warm season grass, but it's not that available. I know that Standlee has a Teff pellet, which can be great to feed cause it's lower in calories. But a lot of your first cut or Timothy forages or local meadow mix hays are going be lower in calories than something like a second cut orchard. But ultimately, again, the only way to tell us to get a test and if you've got a horse that has metabolic issues maybe laminitis or cresty neck and you really have to dial in their nutrition, then you should probably be getting a hay test.
Katy Starr (32:26):
Right. And it gets challenging when you have a horse that has multiple issues, right? Yes. So if they're not just obese, then there's other things that you have to take into account there.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (32:37):
And that's why working with a nutritionist, so I say because you know I have to make kind of brand recommendations when we do the podcast. So in general, I would say, I would steer clear of alfalfa for a horse that was overweight. That being said, if I was working directly with a client, I might put in a little bit of alfalfa if it has gastric ulcers but take out a little bit of grain concentrate. So I'm taking out a little bit of, or change the grain concentrate so I can feed less calories there, but I'm getting more calories. And so I can tweak things when I work one-on-one with people. But in general.
Katy Starr (33:13):
And that just goes into, takes into account there that the whole diet, right, that we've talked about before. Sometimes people kind of tend to look at things piece by piece when really they need to look at the whole diet. And put it all together like a puzzle. Should we feed overweight horses, concentrate or grain? Those
Dr. Tania Cubitt (33:31):
Those two words are different things. So, and that there in itself lies another problem, is we use those terms synonymously. So grain to me, corn, oats, barley, they're cereal grains. Concentrate is concentrated nutrients in a bag. So even if your horse is overweight, it still has a requirement for copper, zinc, selenium, so a ration balancer type pellet. It doesn't have extra calories but it does have vitamins and minerals and most of those products from different companies don't have any grain in there. Some of them have a few mids or something that's going to help stick the pellet together. But again, you're feeding a pound a day. So concentrate, yes, all horses need concentrated vitamins and minerals. Grains that are going to provide sugars, starches, and extra calories. No, those obese horses don't need cereal grains.
Katy Starr (34:27):
And then what if we have a horse that just has a tendency to scarf its hay and feed down, they eat too fast, which obviously is probably a contributing factor for them being overweight. How can we slow them down?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (34:40):
You know, and this is why it's so hard to feed a fat horse and a horse that eats really quickly because management becomes very intense now and, especially, okay, so the hardest one is a mini that's fat and eats fast because he is already only feeling like he's eating like three sticks of hay a day. And now I've got to try and stretch that out over a 24 hour period. So this is where you use slow feed hay nets, slow feeder contraptions that you can build. It means you have to go out there multiple times a day. We work out, okay, so we're going to feed this horse 15 pounds of hay a day. And I know that he's going to eat it really quickly, so I'm going to go out there frequently and just give him a little bit. So management, it's much more increased. You also have to find certain hays. So for me, you've always heard me say that the only bad hay is dust, mold, rats, sticks, any contaminant in it, that's always bad hay. Good hay is what is appropriate for the horse. And so we have a fat horse that eats really quickly, we might want to choose a stemmier hay that's a little higher in that non-digestible fiber, a little lower in nutritional content, that he's not going to love eating but he's just going to slowly munch away on it.
Katy Starr (36:01):
And can we let our obese horses graze in a pasture?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:06):
Hmm. It depends. It depends on how fat they are. It depends on the quality of the pasture, it depends on the amount of grass that's in the pasture and whether the owner is going to be able to get the horse to wear a grazing muzzle. Sometimes the owner doesn't want the horse to wear a grazing muzzle cause they feel bad and sometimes the horse is Houdini and just can't keep it on. So again, general recommendation would probably be if you've got a fat horse in the spring and the fall, no they can't graze. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't go out of their stall or their small run-in. I mean some research in Europe looked at performance horses and mental health really. And when the horses went out on pretty much a dirt lot, there was no grass to speak of, but they were out with their buddies and they were able to, you know, kind of dig into those herd instincts that their stress hormones, their cortisol went way down and it was nothing to do with them grazing, it was just being out there with friends and acting like a horse.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:58):
So while they may not be able to eat actual pasture and it all depends, so many things, turning them out, if you have horses that are easy keepers, fat horses, it's probably worth your while to invest in a sacrifice paddock that is a big enough paddock that they can get turned out on. That you install good footing, you know, you pay some money for underly drainage and then a nice surface on top you can keep clean that isn't going to get muddy. The perfect world would be that everybody had a sacrifice paddock like that.
Katy Starr (37:39):
And can you explain, cause you mentioned that especially in the spring and fall, that the horse should not be out in the pasture if they're overweight. Can you explain why?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:48):
Because I don't want them to eat the spring grass, which is really high in sugars because that is just going to exacerbate any of the kind of metabolic issues that they already have going on from being overweight.
Katy Starr (38:02):
So the grass is just coming back to life and concentrates…
Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:06):
Increases their risk for laminitis. cresty neck, insulin resistance, all of those issues.
Katy Starr (38:10):
Thank you. Excellent. And then ideally for an obese horse, what would you like to see from them in regard to exercise?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:20):
I'd love for them to exercise every day. But you know, if your horses really sore feet and laminitis then it's a crossroads. You're at a double edged sword. And if money was no object, then I'd say, oh, water therapy, you know, know there are water treadmills when there's not a lot of pressure you can swim horses, but that's all really expensive. So really it is driving home the point that avoiding obesity and all of the negative diseases and irregularities that come with it is what we should be educating horse owners to do. Cause trying to exercise a fat horse, trying to come back from laminitis and then managing that horse for the rest of its life, it's really hard. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to do that. So ideally, let's not let our horses get fat. But you know, horses, the true fact is that they do get fat.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (39:18):
So, you know, even walking, trotting, it doesn't have to be heavy exercise. Maybe you start out and you're doing 10 to 15 minutes a day, maybe you just hand walk your horse, you get a little exercise yourself. We try not to do a lot of circular movement because especially with young horses that can put a lot of pressure on the bones in the side of their feet. So if you've ever lunged a long line that might be fun. Or like I said, just walking. I know a lady who, she rides a bike and she ponies the horse, or ponying the horse off another horse if it can't be ridden. So there's lots of things you can do. The other thing that is very simple is if you do have a paddock that your horse goes out in, put everything in completely opposite corners, put the water in one corner, put the hay in another corner. If you feed the horse at all, any kind of ration balancer or a salt, put it in another corner and have the gate where they come in and out at a completely different corner. So they have to force exercise themselves.
Katy Starr (40:17):
Yeah, I think that's a great idea. Great idea. Because then every day they're doing a little bit of something. And then how can you manage an obese horse going into winter, using winter to your advantage?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:31):
Okay, so some of our listeners are going to cringe and say, oh, she's a terrible person. I would never do that to my poor gypsy. Horses, when they need to stay warm, they will burn extra calories trying to stay warm. Remember horses in the wild did not wear blankets and they didn't have shelters, they didn't live in stalls and they survived. Right? So don't blanket your horse. Now if it's an aged geriatric who's already going to have trouble thermoregulating, then you just put a lighter cover on them. But don't put as many layers on them, don't put a cover on them that will help you get some weight off them. If you don't have time to get out there and exercise them yourself and you're kind of at the minimum that you can restrict their diet, then use every advantage you can. And colder weather helps you and it's normal. It would be normal for horses to lose weight in the wintertime.
Katy Starr (41:32):
Right. I mean you talked about it at the very beginning of this episode, you know, horses out in the wild and everything, so, and is there anything else that you'd like to add on this topic that we haven't touched on yet today?
Dr. Tania Cubitt (41:46):
I don't think so. I mean, I think the moral of the story is fat is not the best color and we really need to, if you find it very difficult because you're emotionally attached to your horse, get a nutritionist, get your veterinarian, get somebody who can be more objective to give you a really good honest evaluation of your horse's body weight. And then go from there. Take pictures of the horse. Because when you see a horse every day, you don't notice changes. But if you take a picture and you say, ok, this is overweight, or this is underweight, or this is ideal. And then when you're unsure, oh, just take another picture and compare back to that picture so you have a catalog of pictures and you can assess, you know, that was great. And now I can compare to that. I think that would be helpful.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (42:36):
The other thing is, when new horses come to your barn, let's say you manage a barn and you've got boarders, take a picture of every single horse that comes because again, that is a bit of an insurance policy and you want to think that everybody's great and nobody's going to be mad at you then and say that you did something you didn't. But that is also like, okay, this is how the horse came and now we have the horse gains a bunch of weight or it gets thin or it stays the same, but the owner thinks it's gotten fatter thin. You've got that picture to compare back to.
Katy Starr (43:08):
And I will say, I think taking a picture is a great idea, but when you're taking the picture, if you're taking a few of them, make sure you take them from, those pictures from now and at another time, make sure they're from the same angle. And then also try to have similar lighting.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:24):
Yes, same time of day.
Katy Starr (43:25):
Yep. Because those things can really influence the look of a horse so much. So just take that into account when you're doing that. But that's great.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:34):
Yes, I typically say whether you're in the wash stall or you've got a gate or some kind of standard object that is never changing in the background and take the picture in the same place at the same spot, the same time of day, every time you take the picture.
Katy Starr (43:50):
Time of year will kind of change that up a little bit, but at least gives you a your best bet there. Yeah, that's great.
Well thank you Dr. Cubitt and for our listeners, don't forget to fill out our survey that we are putting out for our second year anniversary of the podcast. This really helps Dr. Cubitt and I know what topics are of interest to you. What would be helpful to learn more about? Also, what do you like about the podcast? What don't you like? The only way for us to make this better for you is to share your feedback, good or bad. And if you like it as is, that's okay to share too. Honestly, it's always nice to share kind words when you have them. So be sure to go to our show notes for the link to fill out our survey for your chance to win. Dr. Cubitt, thank you so much for being on today.
Dr. Tania Cubitt (44:39):
It's always great, Katy.
Katy Starr (44:42):
Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.