The Art of Natural Dressage

Horse weight and fitness
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Author:  sweetleigh [ Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:28 am ]
Post subject:  Horse weight and fitness

Well I feel a bit lost. Billy is a 6yo TB that I just can't get the weight off. I worry about him being overweight, especially because of his young age. I sort of feel like losing weight and gaining fitness could be the next step we need to take for him to feel better about moving and expressing himself. 
Or I may be just worrying about nothing?

So I am trying to work out my options. 
He gets fed pretty much nothing, just a scoop or two of chaff a day so that he is getting fed at the same time as the other horses he is getting paddocked with. He is in a rather large grassy paddock. We have our hardy summer grass at the moment, it's not that long or green but still means all day grazing. Winter is on it's way and that means the green lush stuff will come through. Also means that this year I won't be rugging him (for the first time; he really has no need at all to be rugged, the coldest nights here are about 2 or 3 degrees C, so not cold at all). Hoping that he will lose a little bit of weight just like that. 

At the moment, the only things I can think of are: 
- cutting out feeding altogether- but would feel bad when I feed all his paddock buddies. 
- grazing muzzle- but I really don't want to do this! I just feel so bad about restricting his eating and making him wear a "device" all day. But maybe I should feel less bad about this?
- increasing fitness- more walks out in hand, and start riding again, slowly building it up. But I would need a lot of motivation to do this- as crazy as it sounds, I just get bored riding for the sake of it after a while!

Are there other options? Have others had similar situations? What have you done? Of course, all of my traditional horse friends say I should start riding regularly again. I did just buy a Barefoot saddle, and I would love to, I just need to find a point to it. And I want to do it in an ANDy way. 

Or am I just worried about nothing?

Author:  Donald Redux [ Sat Mar 17, 2012 2:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horse weight and fitness

I don't think there's any way attention to your horse is "worrying too much."

We bred TBs to be athletes, among the most demanding of sports. Make an athlete lay about with little to do but eat and human or horse, they are going to put on weight. This is stress ... not just weight, but stressful weight, and idleness of mind.

There are lots of things you can do to exercise the horse that doesn't require riding, though riding is nice. Maybe you could think about things to do while you ride out. Teaching much more rein response, for instance, doing heavy conditioning exercises on the ride ... I include, for some of my students horses that have similar problems as you relate ... lots of transition work, downward transitions with strong departures, both rate and gait changes.

Half halts, and circle work builds collection and collection builds condition and burns calories very fast.

This tends to keep joints and tendons strong and healthy. It's the idle time that breaks horses down much more than regular steady work. Just like we couch potato humans.

This work is very good for the rider as well, as it builds core strength for riding that only riding can really do correctly.

Great for balance improvement as well.

On the ride out, stopping to do lateral work, turns on forehand, hindquarters, half pass, shoulder in, all work the horse much more than just straight riding, even at speed. And riding becomes a lot more fun when you an do these things with your horse, and wonderful to do outside the barn or school, in the open.

And just as some human athletes, some horse athletes (TBs for sure) don't exercise their minds quite enough and become slow. Yet if you give them mind challenges they come to love it. Trick training can be quit strenuous and may be something that will engage your almost always does the horse once he gets the idea.

You do work with behavior event marking and a reward reinforcement system, yes? It's clicker training. And you don't have to stuff the horse with treats.

Have you someone to move your horse to dry lot part of the day or night so he isn't constantly feeding on that lush rich sugar and starch laden pasture?

One last question, what is "chaff," precisely? Maybe he doesn't need that.

Tell me about his hooves ... they can be great indicators of nutritional events in the horse's life. And in the end, for his health, you may have to muzzle part of the day ... and the muzzle need not be totally closed, just enough for slowdown on his grazing. Best wishes, Donald

Author:  sweetleigh [ Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horse weight and fitness

Thank you so much for your reply Donald. It was very helpful and has given me a lot more options and a lot to think about. 

It made me remember all the benefits there are to riding, as both mental and physical exercise. 

We do 20-30 minute walks out in hand about once a week, and the rest is mostly small bits of slow clicker training, and little bits of trot/canter work. I ride once a fortnight for 10-15 mins at most. He does play and gallop with his paddock buddies, but not so much in summer. 

Chaff- is basically just finely chopped hay. It is mostly used here to mix in with grain or pellet feeds or mineral supplements. Although, for Billy it just gets fed alone. It is a mix of oaten and lucerne; Two of the most common types of hay here. The single scoop that I give him is basically nothing really, probably equivalent to just a few minutes of nutritious grazing. And I mostly just give it so he can be fed at the same time as the others. I was feeding a small handful of oaten hay, but the quality of the hay here at the moment is quite poor and none of the horses were eating much of it. 

I also feed lots of carrots. Billy probably gets about 6-10 carrots a day; 2 to say good morning, 2-4 in his dinner, and 2-4 as treats while playing together. 

I could probably just give him 2-4 carrots as dinner in a bucket and not bother with the chaff.  

His hooves- he has very nice strong hooves. A few bumps/curves down the walls which is a little worry, but they are not very obvious. Not like definite laminitis rings. Other than his weight and occasional sluggishness, he seems a picture of health. 

He doesn't have any large fat deposits on his neck or tail dock, he is just very (!) well covered all over with a big belly. But I don't want him to get to the stage of large fat deposits! But I fear that if things don't change, that is where we are headed. 

I am keen to start riding again. I feel that I have many more tools to make it a more enjoyable experience for us both than it has been in the past. I now have my own treeless saddle, have been bitless for over a year, and have learnt that a positive attitude will make a lot of difference to our enjoyment of riding (and everything). Rather than the pity and doubt that I used to feel. 

It will be great for both of us- a great opportunity to develop our relationship with my developing awareness of his emotions and my own and how they affect our experiences. 

Author:  sweetleigh [ Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Horse weight and fitness

Here are some photos- although they don't really capture it very well.
He actually looks wormy in this first one, but he isn't at all! It looks to be either fat/muscle or something, not ribs. But gives an idea of his big bloated looking belly. And the second of his hindquarters.

Author:  envoked [ Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Horse weight and fitness

Since he isn't carrying excess weight only at his belly, I strongly suspect worms especially since it's his lower abdomen that's bloated. Just to be on the safe side, even though you might not suspect worms, I'd get a worm count. If you don't rotate the type of dewormers you use according to the season, you might have dewormed your horse inadequately also.

If it isn't worms, he may simply have trouble digesting grass and hay, therefore his digestive system has to slow down and he becomes bloated. You'll want to get your vet to check him out to find out what's the best solution for him. It could also be a metabolic disorder, and you should consult your vet for that too.

As for exercise, if you can you could make ask him in hand to go up small hills backwards. He'll have to use his back and abdominal muscles as he goes up this way wich will help him develop a nice topline.

Best of luck with him!

Author:  Machteld [ Thu Mar 29, 2012 10:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Horse weight and fitness

He doesn't look fat to me... Really he doesn't. Does he appear de-energized in any way?

Looking at his bloated belly, I would suspect worms. I stronly advise you to be careful with worm counts. They are not always reliable. I know of a horse who didn't have worms showing up in his count, but indeed had a severe bloodworm infection. If she hadn't trust her gut feeling telling her that something was wrong, his owner would have lost her horse.

If you let a vet examine the blood, the outcome is much more precise than a wormcount.

If worms are ruled out, it's probably what we call to be a hay belly or a grass belly. When digesting hay/grass, a lot of gass is produced, which causes the horses belly to bloat.

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