Available translations

When is my horse too fat?

Tanja Dietz


8 Min. Lesezeit

When is my horse too fat?

Audio version – listen to this article easily

Obesity in horses is no longer a rarity; around 58% of horses are currently overweight - and the trend is rising. One reason for this is that owners have a different perspective. A horse whose ribs are visible is often considered skinny, whereas the ribs of a horse with ideal weight should be easily visible when bent. Chubby ponies are considered cute - but obesity, also known as adiposity, can lead to dramatic health consequences.

Secure a free feed sample of Equine 74 Gastric and help your horse to buffer  excess stomach acid, so it feels well again.

Why do horses get too fat?

Nowadays, the amount of food and exercise is determined by the owner and no longer by nature, as was the case before domestication. This has dramatic consequences. In the wild, horses were usually on the move for 16 hours a day and fed continuously on low-energy grasses. Today, on the other hand, we see horses that sometimes only spend a few hours a day in a paddock that offers no incentive to move. At the same time, they are fed overdosed portions of concentrated feed. This is of course a dramatic example, but basically this is the problem. The horses are over-supplied with energy and the incentive to move is reduced.

Ration design: Do not overestimate the horse's needs

It is important to know your horse's energy requirements in order to determine a feed ration. The energy supply is measured by the maintenance requirement plus the supplements for training, graded according to intensity. The requirement of a 500 kg warmblood horse that is fully grown, healthy and ridden for approximately one hour per day is around 60 MJ ME (energy). Hay has an average energy content of 6 MJ ME/kg. Are you aware that 10 kg of hay already covers your horse's daily energy requirements?

In practice, it is noticeable that many horse owners overestimate their horse's requirements. Your horse usually needs much less feed or energy than you think. If energy deficits occur due to increased training, this can be compensated for with concentrated feed.
The more work is required of a horse, the higher the proportion of concentrated feed.

Just like us humans, different types of horses are different feed converters. Some horses only need to look at a blade of grass to put on weight, while others remain slim despite lush pasture. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with us horse owners. Have a look at what your horse gets every day and think about your ration.

What is the risk of obesity?

The definition of obesity is an increase in body fat that exceeds normal levels. In a healthy horse, the proportion of fatty tissue should be around 5%. Basically, it can be said that obesity leads to reduced performance, lowers the immune system and thus increases the risk of infection and reduces life expectancy

Robust breeds in particular, which lived in barren environments with a low-energy feed supply, are now predisposed to developing obesity. We often see horses and ponies suffering fromlaminitis, insulin resistance, Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) or Equine Cushing's Syndrome (ECS). These areall diseases of affluence, which in most cases are caused by feeding. Excess weight can also affect the musculoskeletal system - flexor tendons and collateral ligaments are overloaded by the extra weight .

How to recognize if your horse is too fat

There are signs that indicate obesity in horses. Does a fat pad form on the mane crest, or does the mane crest even fall to one side? Canyou seefolds of fat on the gait when your horse leans in? Is the shoulder blade no longer recognizable? Do rolls of fat form in front of the saddle flap when saddling? Can you see fat pads above the tail rump? You can almost certainly assume that your horse is overweight.

To be on the safe side, you can have your horse weighed on a horse scale or measure your horse yourself. You will need a flexible measuring tape with centimeter markings. You need the measurements of the chest circumference in the girth position as well as the length of your horse from the bow joint to the ischial tuberosity and use the "Carroll and Huntington formula":

Chest circumference in cm x chest circumference in cm x length in cm) / 11.877 = weight of your horse in kilograms



It is important to know the weight of your horse. Worming and sedation always require a weight indication in order to calculate the correct dosage. The weight is also relevant for the ration design, as, for example, the amount of hay per day is calculated in kg per 100 kg body weight.

The body condition score

The Body Condition Score (BCS) can be used to determine obesity. It is scaled from 1 starved, 2 very thin, 3 thin, 4 moderately thin, 5 normal, 6 moderately fat, 7 fat, 8 fat to 9 extremely fat. The presence of fat pads on the spinous processes, the ribs, the base of the tail, the hip and ischial tuberosities, the bone structure at the withers, the shoulder and the neck is assessed. In addition to the BCS, the Cresty Neck Score (CNS) is currently increasingly being used to assess the ridge fat. The scale ranges from 0 no visible crest to 5 crest is permanently on one side.

Big belly equals fat horse? - Wrong!

Many riders think that a big belly equals a fat horse. However, this is not the case: a sagging belly can be a sign of poor back muscles, but it can also be an indication of a hay belly. If your horse has just eaten a lot of hard-to-digest feed, this is broken down in the large intestine after passing through the stomach and small intestine. There is room for 130 liters of feed slurry here, a considerable volume, which you can also see from the outside. Normally, this hay belly disappears again after a maximum of seven hours. If your horse is very often bloated, you should have this checked by your vet. It may be an indication of a severe worm infestation or incorrect fermentation in the intestines.

How does my horse get thinner again?

You should be prepared for the fact that the weight loss process will take a long time. As with humans, a radical diet is not advisable. The intestinal microbes need time to adjust to the new or different food. Completely depriving your horse of food can cause considerable stress, which in turn can lead to stomach ulcers.

To steer the horse back towards its ideal weight, it is advisable to set a target of losing 1 to 2 % of body mass per week. To achieve this, the feed ration should cover 60 to 70 % of the maintenance requirement in order to stimulate fat mobilization.

To cover the structural requirement, approx. 1 kg /100 kg body mass of hay should be fed. Older, low-energy hay is particularly suitable for this. To enable eating over a longer period of time, the hay can be fed in hay nets and "stretched" with straw. The concentrated feed ration should be reduced to a minimum, if not omitted. Most horses can cover their requirements adequately with good quality hay. To round off the ration, protein in the form of green meal or alfalfa and a balancing mineral feed can be added.

If your horse is bursting at the seams on the summer pasture, you should limit the grazing time. Depending on the conditions in your stable, you should offer your horse a different exercise option, e.g. a sand paddock. Here it has exercise but less grass to eat.

Adjust the amount of feeding and exercise

In addition to feeding, exercise is the second pillar of the diet plan. As horses naturally tend to move at a walk, this also makes sense for your training plan. Build up your training slowly to protect the eyes, ligaments and joints. If your horse has a low basic fitness level, you should start with a long walk and gradually increase your workload. Rides or walks are ideal for this. It is also advantageous to take your horse along as a hand-horse, as the horse is not additionally burdened by the rider's weight. However, always pay attention to your own safety.

As an alternative to riding, you can also lunge or go for a walk. Trotting and walking will bring your horse to success faster than galloping. The reason for this: The fast gait burns more carbohydrates than fat. Endurance training in turn promotes the breakdown of fat deposits.

Is it getting close to winter? Then wait a little longer before covering up. Horses burn fat to maintain their body temperature. So your horse can lose a few kilos straight away without you having to do anything.

My horse is no longer eating

Ideally, horses should be at their ideal weight, because just like obesity, lean horses are also exposed to an increased health risk. They are often prone to gastrointestinal problems and have deficiency symptoms. Toothache, stomach ulcers or a worm infestation can be the cause of emaciation. Find out here what you can do if your horse is no longer eating!

Interested in more reliable and easy-to-read information about your horse's  well-being? Explore our free eBooks.


Who doesn't dream of the ideal weight? But once the kilos are on, it's hard to get them off again. So, as always, it's better to be safe than sorry. As the owner, you can have a big influence on feeding and exercise. It is also important to train your eyes and get a feeling for when a horse is too fat. Statements such as: "Ponies should be fat" are simply not correct and are associated with considerable health risks for the horses.

Are you interested in topics relating to horse feeding? We have put together a feed ABC for you. Here you can find out everything from A to Z about feed.

More on the topic

You canfind lots more information about feeding horses on our Feeding horses with stomach problems page.

Horses with stomach problems need additional support . Itis important to know which feed is suitable for your horse and which should be avoided.

Equine 74 Gastric

The long-term solution

Buffers the excess acid in the horse's stomach instead of blocking it.

Equine 74 Stomach Calm Relax

In case of acute stress

Supports the nervous horse stomach in stressful situations.