How to Help Your Pony Lose Weight
Updated: May 23, 2022
I know I have been sharing a lot about weight loss here lately. But even with all these blog posts I still get quite a few questions asking HOW did I go about helping Sky and Zorro lose the weight. So I thought I would dedicate an entire post to the exact how.
First, we all know that to lose weight we have to take in less food. That's pretty much the bottom line for ponies, horses, dogs and people. But the quality of that food matters as well.
In February I found Bright Line Eating through a couple of my friends who were having some successful weight loss. It's so easy to say eat less. But it turns out the foods we cut out of our diet matter more than just simply eating less. Bright Line Eating has us cut out ALL flour and sugar. ALL of it. In other words I have to carefully read the ingredients in all the foods I buy before I eat them. If flour and sugar is in the first 3 ingredients then I can't eat it. I carefully weigh all my food and eat only 3 meals a day. Actually 3 meals ended up being too much food so I cut back to two meals a day and then I fast until the next morning. I have lost 35 pounds and 15 inches overall. This is something I can do long term because I can eat fruit and veggies. My protein intake is important as well. It's actually not hard to just abstain from flour and sugar. Not hard at all, as long as you don't allow them into your diet in any way. There is a saying in BLE, "If you it's easy for you, you are doing it right!" I'll admit that once I started being strict with my own food, weighing everything and staying away from flour and sugar it was much easier for me to be strict with Zorro and Sky. While I was eating whatever I wanted and packing on the pounds I just felt sorry for them when they were hungry between meals. It made it harder for me to carefully weigh their food, though I still did it! I just felt like I should sneak a little more hay in here and there. But I didn't.
What I'm getting at is, the only way I was able to get the weight off my ponies was to restrict their forage, weigh their food and not give them any extra treats, grain, carrots, apples, or supplements. Allowing them 24/7 access to forage while also exercising them daily did not help. (In Bright Line Eating we are not supposed to exercise until we lose the weight, as exercise actually does NOT help with weight loss. This is scientifically proven. And until I started BLE I had no idea. Everyone says you have to exercise to lose weight!)
First, when you are helping your horse or pony lose weight be sure you are feeding low sugar low starch hay. This is vital. They have evolved to eat low quality forage. We are literally killing them with kindness. Please do some research and learn more about feeding low sugar low starch hay.
We should touch on what happens as the fat starts to leave the cells. It can cause both horses and ponies to not feel very well. It turns out that fat cells also store toxins. And as the cells shrink, they release these toxins into our blood stream. So if your horse or pony seems a bit grumpy, depressed, exhausted, give them a little break. Losing weight is hard!
Here is what I did step-by-step:
First, my old vet and I guessed at their weight. We guessed them both to be about 380 pounds. The vet wanted to see 100 pounds taken off both ponies.
I started weighing their hay. They could have 1.5% of their CURRENT weight in hay. Mathmatically that is 380 x .015= 5.7 pounds of feed. I decided to do 5 pounds of hay and .7 pounds of hay pellets. I broke this into two meals. 2.5 pounds of hay in the morning and 2.5 pounds of hay in the evening, with the .7 pounds of pellets broke into two meals as well. OR I would give them the hay pellets in training treats.
Earlier last year I decided to stop feeding all grain and supplements and was feeding only hay pellets and Soybean meal. I stopped feeding the Soybean meal as I felt it was keeping them fat.
Winter came and helped them lose some weight as they had to use their existing fat to stay warm. I did not blanket them all winter and was careful how much hay I fed. When we had a short stint of below zero I did feed them a bit more hay, but I pretty much weighed their feed all winter! They did not get hay pellets over the winter!
I do feed in slow feed nets. We all prefer the 1 1/4" size net openings. The 1" openings slow them down a bit more but they are VERY hard to clean and are impossible to use when it's freezing and snowy. They simply can't get the hay out of those tiny openings when the net is frozen.
This spring I took them back to my regular vet who thought they looked pretty good! We ended up having some other issues, when Zorro had a bad reaction to his vaccinations and I had to take them to another vet because everyone thought he had impaction colic. This vet had a scale and I was able to weigh Zorro. He weighed 340 pounds. That vet felt he was still 30-40 pounds over weight at that time. (My last blog post shared how he came up with Zorro's ideal weight.) Since I now had a new weight goal I lowered the amount of hay I was feeding to 2 pounds twice a day. And made up the .5 in pellets. (300 x .015= 4.5 pounds) After a week of feeding less hay I took both Zorro and Sky back to the new vet and weighed them. Zorro weighed 328 and Sky weighed 322. Zorro had lost some weight. I didn't have a weight to compare Sky to, but I figure she would be at her best weight at 260 pounds so she still has about 40 pounds to lose. I figure Zorro has lost about 10 more pounds since and is close to that 300 mark.
Because we are still exercising a lot I have added back in some hay pellets and worked them up to 4 ounces of Soybean Meal twice a day. Sky gets closer to 2-3 ounces.
Because I want Sky to lose some more weight I have lowered the hay to just under 2 pounds and then I make up the difference for Zorro in the hay pellets. I don't necessarily want him to lose more weight at this time. I am now feeding for Sky's weight goal, 260 x .015= 3.9 - rounded up to 4 pounds. Sky gets no more than 4 pounds of feed, total, a day. Zorro gets 4.5 pounds. I make that up with .5 pounds of hay pellets.
So, this is how I did it! Zorro went from this:
And how Sky went from this:
Keep in mind that Sky is an 18 year old broodmare. Granted she has only had 3 foals but she hasn't been in hard work for a long time. I often have people tell me their mare is old so therefor can't lose weight. But Sky is proof that it can happen!
Nothing about this has been easy. It has not been fast. I started this with the ponies last year in August. They finally are looking good in May. Weight loss in horses and ponies should NOT be done quickly, it should take some time. So don't start weighing your horse or pony's feed and then get discouraged when they haven't lost much in a week. This will take months. Even years for some, though they should lose some weight within a few months. I just mean they may not get to their goal weight in months. It's the same for people. We all lose weight differently.
Not allowing them to have some kind of forage in their tummy 24/7 has caused me a lot of stress. There is plenty of information out there showing how important this is for horses. However, there is also a lot of information out there about horses and ponies that become metabolic, founder and have health issues due to being obese. I feel the weight loss is very important, even if it has to come at the expense of them eating 24/7. I haven't seen any indicators of ulcers in Sky or Zorro. They both get lots of movement, they have each other for company. I take them everywhere together, so they don't stress about that. I also feed them before I work them. They either have a little bit of hay or get a few minutes to graze on the grass in my back yard. I think there are many factors to consider when talking about ulcers.
Please get your vet involved if your horse or pony is having a very hard time losing weight. There may be some medications that can help. But these are not things to be given lightly as they typically have side effects. So do take the time to read about them before giving them to your horse or pony.
And please keep in mind that weight loss takes time. So I urge you to give your equine the time to lose the weight.