The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

25.8.2022: Keeping the Belly in Check

A Guest Blog By Jan Daley

Rebel is often accused of being fat, sometimes with justification, especially in years gone by when I wasn’t working him as hard and often as I have been for the last couple of years. Now, he still has a wide belly, but his body conditioning score is, I think, just about right.

My 2 horse horrors are laminitis and gastric ulcers. To prevent the first, my reading and learning suggests that the horse should be kept lean; you should feel ribs, and the rump should not be apple-shaped. Feeling ribs and spine without being able to see them easily seems to be the gold standard or rule of thumb, if that makes sense! The easiest way for me to keep Rebels weight under control is to increase his work. If he loses too much weight, or his energy drops, it’s easier to increase calories by simply letting him graze the “long acre” for a couple of hours. Because his paddock is bare (not deliberately, it’s just the result of constant hooves), he has ad lib hay. People throw their hands up in horror at this because he’s a Shetland, but he’s actually not a greedy pony, and he wanders around the paddock, or stands in the hedge watching the world go by as often as he stands at the haybell eating … his hay is good quality, and now 2 years old, so very little sugar and starch – if any! — left. He gets balancer for whatever nutrition is missing from the forage, mixed with speedibeet in a lot of water, which brings me neatly to gastric ulcers.

Now we have the opposite problem – keeping enough forage in the stomach to prevent stomach acid attacking the stomach walls. Rebel’s ulcers were caused, we’re pretty certain, by a bout of mild impaction colic, brought on by dehydration. In his case, he’s not a big drinker (takes after his daddy rather than his mammy – in her day! 🙄), so although he had 3 full buckets of clean water every day, he wouldn’t drink as much as 1/2 a bucket. Compounded by increasing his workload, and unseasonably warm spring weather, and bingo!, a year of pony-disaster and misery for both of us.

After successfully treating his ulcers, I added limestone flour to his soup as a preventative measure, and then discovered that it might be causing muscle stiffness, so I cut that out, and now the only “supplements” I give him are a salt lick, and electrolytes in his post-exercise feed.

Ah, the joys of horse ownership!

August 25, 2022
Sue Palmer