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Four Keys to Perfect Pony WeightBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 5, 2017

Science has revealed that ponies are genetically predestined to pack on the pounds. How do pony owners combat this evolutionary influence? Start here with these four management tips.

1. The key to an effective weight-loss diet is to manage caloric intake. Fewer calories should be consumed than expended. Easier said than done, right? “For plump ponies, this usually means cutting out concentrates, such as typical textured or pelleted feeds. To reduce calories and maintain a nutritious diet, use a ration balancer, which provides essential vitamins and minerals that a hay-only diet doesn’t,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Be sure to feed the recommended amount of balancer, as feeding too little will not provide adequate nutrition and feeding too much is hard on the wallet. Most well-known feed brands have a balancer pellet in their lineup.

2. Free-choice access to forage is not ideal for ponies that need to lose weight as they can (and usually will) overeat. Effectively managing forage intake can be difficult. In pasture situations, use a grazing muzzle for part of the day to control intake, advised Whitehouse. Daily monitoring of the grazing muzzle is necessary as ill-fitting muzzles can lead to rubs and sores. In addition, the muzzle should be inspected often to ensure the floor of the muzzle, the surface that contains the holes for eating through, is intact. Many ponies have damaged muzzles in ways that allow unchecked intake, which can cause gastrointestinal problems. In drylot scenarios, hay can be given in small meals several times a day or can be fed in a specific type of haynet engineered to allow only small bites to be taken at one time, thus reducing intake. These haynets are sometimes called “slow-intake” or “nibble” nets.

“Overweight ponies should consume about 1.25-1.5% of their body weight as forage (pasture or hay) per day. This would be about 7.0-8.3 lb (3.2-3.8 kg) per day for a 550-lb (250-kg) pony,” recommended Whitehouse. In addition to reducing intake, it is important to offer a low-calorie hay with reduced starch and sugar (nonstructural carbohydrates or NSC) levels.

3. Increasing exercise to five or six days per week will boost energy expenditure if limiting caloric intake is difficult. Exercise bouts should last at least 30 minutes with a sustained increase in heart rate. Sound ponies can be exercised in many ways: under saddle, in harness, or in hand, as in longeing or ground-driving. “A combination of calorie restriction and increased exercise is most effective in reducing weight and improving insulin metabolism among insulin-insensitive ponies,” said Whitehouse.

4. Ponies described as easy-keepers are at greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome, characterized by generalized obesity, abnormal fat deposits, insulin dysregulation, and an increased risk of pasture-associated laminitis, said Whitehouse. Being proactive in nutritional management is the best way to minimize the risks associated with metabolic syndrome. Body weight management is a key component. For extremely obese ponies, the use of levothryroxine sodium has been effective as a short-term treatment to increase metabolic rate. Levothryroxine sodium should be used in combination with diet and exercise. Consultation with a veterinarian that understands metabolic concerns is warranted in these cases and any time questions arise about the well-being of ponies.

Do you have a pony that needs to curb its intake but you’re not quite sure where to begin? Consult with a KER nutrition advisor today.