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Please Don't Over-Rug This Winter

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Please don't over-rug this winter ......

Thirty years ago most ponies were roughed off, turned out at grass to grow a coat and come in ‘ribby’ in the spring before putting the weight back on in a natural yo-yo dieting fashion. To achieve this, the endocrine system will relay a whole series of messages about

food consumption and storage,

energy transmission,

suppression or increase of appetite,

depression of energy expenditure,

coat growth,

hair thickness and time to shed the excess hair.

Part of this system is circadian in nature (around a 24hour period) and relies largely upon light, but part of the system relies on seasonal temperatures and nutrient availability. The problem with modern horses/ponies affected by metabolic syndrome is that the nutrients they receive are in excess of the nutrients they require and this is compounded by the fact that horses are no longer expected to,

travel long distances in search of food,

cope with extreme or variable temperatures,

grow thick winter coats and shed them at least 4 times throughout the four seasons of the year.

Winter coat growth, hair loss and shedding use a metabolic energy (AKT) pathway which involves both insulin and glucose, this entails the lowering of circulating levels of plasma insulin and use of an excess store of energy. Over rugging horses and native ponies or long periods in the stables during the winter/autumn/early summer months will deprive them of the ability to use up this excess glucose and fat storage.

The increased problem of a horse with equine metabolic syndrome is that the fat deposits of adipose tissue contain an independent endocrine signaling system with at least 4 hormones governing weight loss, energy output and weight control.

Most importantly; homeostasis of weight maintenance and appetite is governed by a balanced set of signals given out both by the adipose tissue and the gastrointestinal tract. In obese horses with large adipose deposits particularly in the neck shoulders and tail area there will be an increased volume of adipose hormones released which easily outbalance the hormones released from the gut, compromising the vital homeostasis of appetite and weight control, further weight gain is the result.

As well as hormones of weight control and appetite, adipose tissue also releases a whole series of inflammatory chemicals which cause a pro inflammatory state, disrupt the normal circulation of the foot and together with circulating insulin play a major part in the onset of many disease states including laminitis.

Therefore the most important goal is to control adipose tissue gain. Reducing the cresty necks and fat pads will limit the abnormal and high volumes of signaling hormones that disrupt appetite, influence weight gain, disrupt circulation and gastrointestinal function, raise circulating insulin levels and that eventually result in an episode of laminitis.

There are understandably many problems for owners in the UK wanting to leave their horses out for the winter especially those living in very wet areas or on livery yards that do not want to ruin their limited grazing, this can be challenging and below are a few practical points to manage the diet and weigh gain of your horse not only through the winter but throughout the whole year.

Try not to rug too early, allow your horse to grow a good winter coat and be ‘roughed off’ or ‘let down’ for at least 8 weeks through the autumn/winter, this is vital for his metabolism, getting cold and wet causes the release of energy from fat stores. For some horses being turned out until Christmas is sufficient to use up the fat stored as adipose tissue, this avoids the worse months of January and February which can be even more cold and wet. Avoid feeding hard feed which may contain hidden sugars, some labels are misleading and describe the amount of sugar added to the feed extra to what it contains naturally.

Sometimes it is impossible for horse owners to go back to rugless winter turn out as a method of adipose tissue control, adding an AKT energy pathway stimulant to the diet may help check out Phytolean

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