In North America, it is estimated that up to 51% of horses are overweight and up to 8% are obese [1][2][3]

Horses become overweight from a combination of factors, including insufficient activity and consuming excess calories.

A horse’s energy requirements depend on many factors such as age, breed, genetics, exercise, and life stage. [4] Some horses are easy keepers and are prone to gaining weight quickly.

Easy weight gain may be a sign of metabolic syndrome and hyperinsulinemia which is the leading cause of laminitis. Being over-conditioned can affect performance, joint health and soundness. [5]

If your horse is overweight, work with your veterinarian and an equine nutritionist to formulate a feeding and management plan to support healthy weight loss. This article will discuss key tips for feeding overweight horses to lose weight.

How to Tell if Your Horse is Overweight?

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a method of estimating your horse’s subcutaneous adipose tissue (body fat that accumulates directly under the skin).

The BCS scale rates your horse’s body condition from 1 to 9, with a score of 1 considered emaciated (very thin) and 9 considered very obese. [6]

A healthy horse should score a 5 on the 9-point scale. However, a score of 4 or 6 may also be acceptable, depending on the horse’s life stage, age and any health conditions it may have.

A score of 7 is considered overweight, and scores of 8 and 9 are considered obese. [4] [6]

Assessing Body Condition

As horses gain weight, fat accumulates over the horse’s whole body and in these six areas: [6]

  • Over the tailhead
  • Over the rump
  • Along the withers
  • Along the neck
  • Over the ribs
  • Behind the shoulder

By visually assessing and palpating these key areas, you can understand where your horse falls on the 9-point scoring system.

Follow the steps in this Guide to Body Condition Scoring your Horse to determine whether your horse is overweight and needs to lose body condition.

Studies show that horse owners often underestimate their horse’s body condition, particularly for overweight horses. [1] Ask your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist for a second opinion on your horse’s BCS score.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn - Equine Nutrition Consultants | Mad Barn Canada

What Causes Overweight in Horses?

Any horse can become overweight or obese when their energy intake is not balanced with their energy expenditure. However, many animal- and environment-specific risk factors can increase a horse’s likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.

Risk factors for being overweight can include: [1][7][8][9]

  • Feed availability: Providing excess food, above requirements, can result in weight gain.
  • Feed type: Providing energy-dense forages, grains, brans, and commercial feeds can contribute to weight gain.
  • Breed: Breeds genetically predisposed to metabolic syndrome such as ponies, minis, donkeys, mules, Arabians, Morgans, Spanish breeds, Canad