If your horse is an easy keeper, sometimes it can seem like they get fat off of air.

Some equine breeds are known for being more metabolically efficient than others. They require less digestible energy (calories) to maintain an ideal body condition than other horses. This means they can easily become overweight.

Research shows that up to 40% of horses and ponies are overweight. [21] This can have long-term negative consequences for equine health and well-being, leading to inflammation, metabolic dysfunction, and a higher risk of laminitis.

But there are a number of effective strategies that you can use to help your easy keeper lose weight and maintain a healthy body condition. These strategies include forage selection, pasture management, soaking hay, and choosing low-calorie vitamin and mineral supplements.

This article will discuss how to best feed your easy keeper and how to track their body condition score over time. If you would like personalized recommendations for feeding your horse, submit their diet online for a free consultation from our equine nutritionists.

What is an Easy Keeper?

An easy keeper – also known colloquially as a good doer or thrifty horse – is a horse or pony that does not require many calories to remain in optimum body condition.

These horses are often hardy, native or cob-type breeds that thrive in sparse landscapes.

Easy keepers are prone to putting weight on when allowed to graze freely on rich grass pasture. They require little-to-no concentrate feeds in their diets.

These horses can have several differences compared to hard keepers that allow them to gain and maintain weight more easily, including: [22][23]

  • More efficient digestion and absorption
  • Differences in gut microbiome
  • Build fat reserves easily and are resistant to body fat loss

The Problem of Modern Management

In domestic management settings, easy keepers are at risk of becoming overweight and developing associated health problems.

Availability of rich grass pasture, high-quality hay and calorie-dense concentrate feeds means that energy intake is often higher than it needs to be.

Furthermore, the provision of shelter, use of blankets, and limited turnout can lead to significantly lower energy expenditure than their feral counterparts.

Higher energy intake and lower energy expenditure can quickly lead to weight gain, if not managed properly.

Obesity-Related Issues

If your easy keeper is allowed to put weight on, they are at greater risk of developing many obesity-related conditions including: [8][11][18]

Obesity is a growing problem for domestic horses. It is estimated that up to 54% of the U.K. horse population is obese, with similar findings across Europe and America. [18][21]

Equine Metabolic Syndrome, hyperinsulinemia and laminitis are more common in obese horses. This is because horses with EMS have insulin resistance which facilitates obesity, not because obesity causes EMS directly.

Why You Shouldn’t Restrict Feed

One way to address weight gain in easy keepers is to restrict feed intake by rationing feed or reducing the frequency of meals.

Restricting your horse’s access to feed might seem like a good way to decrease calorie consumption, but this can lead to more problems than it solves, including stereotypic behaviours and gastric ulcers.

Horses are trickle feeders that evolved to graze continuously for up to 16 hours per day. [1]

Your horse’s feeding program needs to satisfy its natural desire to forage throughout the day. Otherwise, your horse might start eating other items in their environment, including bedding, fences, barn boards, and soil.

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