Estimating Actual Bodyweight of Adult Horses Can Be Challenging

by | 07.11.2016 | 2:30pm

Obesity is a growing issue among equines in the United States. Similar to humans, excess weight in horses can lead to a plethora of health issues, including insulin resistance, laminitis and decreased athletic ability, among other things.

Because of these issues, it's important to be able to determine a horse's body weight, but few owners have access to a livestock scale. However, there are mathematical equations equine owners can use that utilize the horse's height and body length to determine the horse's actual weight without a scale.

Recently, these equations have been improved to take into account breed, neck and girth circumference along with height and body weight to more-accurately predict body weight. This is especially helpful for Arabians, stock horses, draft horses, ponies and warmbloods.

In 2011, Devan Catalano, Marcia Hathaway, PhD, Molly McCue, DVM, PhD, and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota Extension, took body measurements on 629 adult horses and ponies at two horse shows in St. Paul, Minn. In 2014, the same measurements were taken on 227 adult draft and warmblood horses at two other horse shows.

The first two shows featured mainly ponies, stock horses and Arabians; the second set of shows were mainly draft horses and warmbloods, respectively. All the horses who were used in the study were older than 3 and not pregnant.

Trained personnel then took the following measurements: body condition score (BCS) on a scale of 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat), neck circumference at the midway point between the poll and the third thoracic vertebra, height at the third thoracic vertebra, girth circumference at the third thoracic vertebra, and body length from the point of the shoulder to a line perpendicular to the point of the buttock.

Each horse was then weighed on a scale. In addition to  weight, the age, breed, gender and discipline were also recorded. Warmblood owners and draft horse owners were asked to estimate their horse's body weight prior to the horses getting on the scale.

Body measurements were different between breed-types, but draft horses and ponies had higher BCS compared to the other breed types. Fourteen percent of the stock horses, ponies and Arabians; and almost half (42 percent) of draft horses were considered overweight with a BCS greater than or equal to 7. Two percent of the warmbloods were overweight. It was found that, on average, draft horse and warmblood owners were 115 pounds off on their estimation of the horse's actual bodyweight. Though this might not seem like a lot of weight for such a large animal, this misjudgment could have serious health implications.

When ideal bodyweight was estimated for each horse and subtracted from the scale bodyweight, the difference in pounds between each BCS averaged 33 for Arabians, 37 for stock horses, 22 for ponies, 86 for draft horses and 37 for warmbloods.

Read more at the University of Minnesota Extension.

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