2013 proceedings

This title poses a challenging question for all horse owners. Recently, an editorial appeared in a veterinary publication discussing the issue of obesity in the horse industry.  While you might be quick to say, “My horse is an easy keeper, he’s not obese,” all owners need to step back for a minute and assess their horses. Consider what you see in the industry. Are over-conditioned horses becoming the norm? Are show ring standards leading owners to practices that keep their horses in a higher level of body condition, as in round and shiny vs. the slick and fit? Without guidelines on what normal should be or what is ideal we may have difficulty in making judgments on our horses or someone else’s horse.

The place to start is how we evaluate a horse’s condition. Can we use a method to determine if a horse is fat or not. In 1981, Dr. Don Henneke and coworkers from Texas A&M University published a Body Condition Scoring system (BCS). The system was based on selected anatomical areas that reflected changes in fat deposition. These changes were related to the total body fat of the horse. (See figure 1). The system is 1-9 scoring system with one being an extremely emaciated horse while a nine is considered to be obese. The original research was on broodmares and suggested that a BSC of five or greater was ideal. While the system has been used on a variety of classes of horses, the score of five is a good place to start. Horses in BCS of five do not have visible ribs and show some modest deposits of fat. This body fat can provide a source of calories to the horse, should it be necessary, but the horse blends together smoothly. Horses may move up or down the scale, related to the amount of stored body fat the horse has. A horse that moves to a six or seven BCS would indicate that more calories are being consumed than required with the extra calories being stored as fat for a later time. It is the excess storage that becomes a problem. Horses that are in a high BCS (greater than a seven) have an increased risk for developing metabolic problems such as insulin resistance, founder or laminitis. With the performance horse it has been noted that a BCS of less than four will affect performance due to reduced energy sources, while a BCS of greater than six can result in reduced performance due to impaired thermoregulation. The bottom line is horse owners need to assess their horses and formulate a plan to be in that BCS 5-6 range.


The horse is born much more “ready for life “ than humans.  If the horse is going to survive, nature must equip it with the ability to stand up quickly and move. It is the process of myelination that contributes to this rapid brain growth and maturation.

Myelin is a fatty substance that works like an insulator covering nerve fibers which transmit information. These fibers are laid down in extensive pathways throughout the brain.

These pathways are like millions of small wires carrying electrochemical messages. These tracks are insulated by the fatty myelin that gives them a white appearance. The heavily myelinated areas are often referred to as white matter.


Admittedly, not all mare owners are breeders with expectations of making a profit. If they are claiming their horse operation as a business for tax purposes, they must at least show evidence of “intention to make a profit”. Regardless of the scenario, it would be safe to assume that all breeders would like to minimize their losses.

Economic analysis of broodmare management practices is relatively scarce in the scientific literature. Bosh and others (2009) examined the production records of 1176 Thoroughbred mares in central Kentucky (over 7244 mare years) to determine the effects of reproductive efficiency over time on mare financial returns. They determined that over a 7 year investment period, live foals must be produced in all but one year to yield a positive financial return, noting that mares are a long term investment due to the delay in return on investment. They found that 63% of mares did not produce a foal every year but brood mares produced for an average of 3.4 years before NOT producing a foal. Interestingly, a majority of the mares drifted in foaling date with  subsequent foaling seasons. The probability of producing a registered foal decreased with increasing mare age, foaling after April 1st and multiple matings per conception.


The horse evolved as a grazing animal. In order to consume enough forage to meet the horses’ nutritional needs a significant amount of time would be spent each day grazing. The pattern of selecting forage-moving to the next area starting to graze again would easily translate into 14 to 16 hours of grazing activity each day. Even today researchers have reported that when allowed free access to pasture horses graze for 60 -70% of the day.

If that is the normal grazing activity for a horse, turning your horses out on pasture should not be an issue and would give them ample opportunity to consume enough forage to meet most of their nutrient needs. It is evident in today’s horse industry that access to pasture, while a readily available source of nutrients for the horse can also be a source of headaches for the horse owner.

The often asked question is how much pasture I will need for my horse. This is easily answered by “it depends”. There are many factors that can influence the use of pasture as a nutrient source for horses. Certainly the amount of forage grass to graze that is available is the major concern. With today’s better agricultural practices including new varieties of grasses, better weed control, fertilizer applications and a cooperative Mother Nature horse owners can provide on an abundant supply of forage. While it is easy to supply the forage, from a nutrient supply basis how much actual forage does the horse consume and over what period of time are critical pieces to the puzzle.



Combining freedom and beauty with a spectacular demonstration of the bond between horses and people that can be achieved, liberty performances are inspiring horsemen and horsewomen around the globe. Whether competing, enjoying a scenic trail ride or performing at liberty, liberty training makes everything safer and more rewarding for you and your horse. The foundation training that is essential for a performance liberty horse is no different than what is used to educate horses of any age or reeducate horses with disciplinary problems. Liberty horses are trained to work free of tack, taking cues from the handler to perform specific feats. Liberty is a specialized discipline; no different than reining or dressage, and a solid foundation is the key to success.

Ground Control

Each horse regardless of breed, age and history begins liberty training through ground control. Boosting the confidence of both horse and handler, this stage of education teaches horses to become soft in the halter, supple, desensitized and respectful through a series of easy to follow exercises. Valuable steps for any discipline, the ground control foundation aids in developing understanding and willingness.



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