Study confirms exercise benefits for dieting horses

We know that exercise is important, but this new study confirms exactly how it can benefit dieting horses.

Is your horse overweight? A new study conducted by a research team at the University of Melbourne confirms that dieting is more beneficial when combined with regular low-intensity exercise. While this approach to combating health concerns such as obesity and diabetes is considered general knowledge, it wasn’t fully understood. For instance, many horse caregivers assume that exercise increases weight loss, but this isn’t necessarily the case. It does, however, offer other important benefits.

“Reducing calorie intake and feeding a diet low in starch and sugar should be the priority for overweight horses and ponies,” says researcher Clare Barfoot. “However, these results suggest that exercise may offer additional health benefits for obese horses and ponies, and/or those with EMS, that cannot be achieved by cutting calories and weight loss alone.”

Two groups of 12 horses were fed a diet of restricted hay at 1.25% body weight on a dry matter basis (no grazing); a small amount of alfalfa chaff and soya bean meal; and a vitamin and mineral supplement. One of the groups was also put on a 12-week exercise program that entailed 15 minutes of brisk trotting (with a five-minute walk before and after), five days per week. Both groups showed a decrease in body condition score, body weight and total body fat mass. Post-weight loss, the basal insulin and leptin concentrations in all 24 horses dropped. Only the 12 horses on the exercise program, however, showed signs of improved insulin sensitivity, putting them at lower risk of developing laminitis. They also had lower levels of serum amyloid A, a protein association with inflammation.