Whether your horse is in hard condition or soft condition, he should always be in good condition. As a responsible horse owner, you must keep close tabs on how much your horse is eating, how well he is utilizing that food, his weight and his overall health to ensure that he is thriving. If he’s not, it’s your job to figure out why and fix it.
Condition in Horses
A horse is considered to be in “good condition” when he falls within the range of “soft condition” and “hard condition”. A horse in soft condition is healthy but not fit, with slack muscles and a little extra fat. A horse in hard condition is healthy and fit, with well-developed muscles and no excess fat.
A horse in poor condition is either too fat (obese) or too thin (emaciated). A thin horse has no layer of fat under the skin, making him less able to stave of infection, or withstand cold (making it especially difficult to fatten up a horse who is thin going into winter). An obese horse holds extra fat on the shoulders, neck and quarters, and finds it difficult to perform even light exercise without stress. Excess weight is hard on a horse, leading to such ailments as laminitis.
Correcting Weight Issues in Horses
It is much easier to prevent weight issues in horses than it is to fix them. If you “weigh” your horse (either literally, using a weight tape, or by using the body condition scoring system and keep monthly records of the results, you will notice small changes in in weight and condition, and take corrective action right away.
Overweight horses often require fewer carbohydrates, or concentrated feeds, and more exercise. Underweight horses will often respond to an increase in both roughage (hay and grass) and concentrates, and the addition of an extra blanket in winter, as horses use food as fuel for staying warm in cold weather.
The use of practical feeding scales, appropriate exercise and good record-keeping are all practices that lead to maintaining good condition in your horse.
Anorexia in Horses
While many weight issues in horses can be attributed to care (over/under-feeding), or circumstances (age, teeth or parasites), keep in mind that most horses live to eat. If your horse stops finishing up his food, the matter must be taken seriously. This could be caused by something as simple as moldy grain, or not taking enough time to gradually introduce a new type of food, but anorexia (refusal to eat) can also be associated with pain, fever or disease.
If your horse’s condition is less than ideal, find out why. If in doubt, call your vet. Whether it’s due to poor feeding practices, parasites, age or anorexia, a responsible horse owner must get to the root of the problem and solve it. With a good feed and exercise plan, diligent record-keeping and a keen eye for the smallest change, you can help your horse be the picture of health.