"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." Lou Hultz
I think by now we all know that excess weight is damaging to our bodies. By extension, it is damaging to the bodies of our horses, dogs, cats, et cetera. It would seem logical that it would be relatively simple to restrict the intake of calories to our animals. In theory, that wouldn’t involve the same psychological complications as are involved in losing weight ourselves.
And yet, it isn’t simple at all. If you own a horse who seems to live on fresh air, then reducing his weight is extremely difficult. I was thinking about it today, and wondering whether some of the psychology around this is similar to the guilt I feel when I don’t allow my son to have the piece of cake that he’s asking for. All too often, I give in and allow him the cake. Then, because he sometimes gets cake and sometimes does not, he is on a variable schedule of reinforcement, which strongly encourages him to keep asking for cake. I’m not convinced, though, that the same psychology applies in terms of restricting what our horses eat.
I wonder if it’s easier to get a dog to lose weight than a horse. I feed my dog twice a day, and she doesn’t have access to any other food. Furthermore, I was brought up not to give her titbits, so actually it’s relatively easy to control her weight. A horse, of course, needs to graze the vast majority of the time.
I wonder whether one relatively simple change could be to stop strip grazing. So many people move the fence just a little each day, which gives the horse access to plenty of fresh grass each day, and drastically reduces his chances of losing weight. Would it be better to keep him on the same stale piece of ground, and to feed him hay?
I’m not a nutritionist and I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I am treating horses daily who are suffering increased levels of discomfort because of the excess weight they are taking through their joints. So if you have any tips and tricks to share, please share them in the comments below!
Please bear in mind that I cordially ask you to share your thoughts in a non-judgemental way. We are all doing the best we can, given the knowledge, tools, and experience that we have available to us.
© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021
Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion