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Too Fat or Too Thin: What’s More Common in Old Horses?

The idea that the aging horse is a skinny horse might be getting old itself. In a recent study, researchers found that many old horses are in good body condition. And, at least in certain countries, those that don’t have ideal condition are more likely to be overweight than underweight.

“Achieving optimal body condition requires knowledgeable calculation of the feed ration, and that’s just as true for older horses,” said Melissa Raemy, BSc, in agronomics with a specialty in animal sciences; she works under the supervision of Conny Herholz, PD, DrMedVet, FTA, Dipl. ECEIM, ATA, a professor at the Bern University of Applied Sciences School of Agricultural, Forest, and Food Sciences, in Switzerland, and Ingrid Vervuert, PD, DrMedVet, Specialist in animal nutrition and dietetics at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

Raemy and colleagues examined the body condition scores of 50 horses aged 18-28 (with an average of 22 years) in the Switzerland’s Bern and Freiburg cantons. The breeds included warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, ponies, and Franches-Montagnes horses, and they stood an average height of 15.3 hands.

They found that 46% of the horses had an optimum body condition score, Raemy said. However, 30% were overweight, and 8% were obese. By contrast, only 12% were underweight, with only 4% being actually too thin.

Half the horses were kept in group housing and the other half in individual box stalls with turnout. But these management systems didn’t seem to have an effect on the body condition scores, she said.

“The horses we saw were generally in pretty good shape,” Raemy said as she presented at the 2018 Swiss Equine Research Day, held Avenches. “Outside of that ideal, we actually saw about twice as many fatter horses compared to skinnier ones in this age group. So it’s important to consider their body condition and adjust their food rations accordingly if they’re getting overweight. Old doesn’t necessarily mean skinny.”

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