Your Horse is Fat!

Here's a little (read: long and angry) post about what I like to call the spring time shuffle.

Around this time of year, every year, two things happen.

1. We get complaints from a handful of (generally predictable) people whose horses have been trimmed just fine for the last several months suddenly saying their horse was "trimmed too short" this last visit.

And 2. We get a massive influx of enquiries from new clients who are looking for a new farrier because their last farrier "trimmed them too short".

Now, I can understand this logic if you're either new to horses, or this happens on the first visit with a new farrier without warning. However, all the rest of you, need your annual reality check. (I honestly think y'all also need a reality check on realistic "soundness" expectations but I'll save that for another grumpy day).

It is the annual shuffling of clients between all the local farriers' books, because the clients don't want to face the real reason why their horse is shuffling around the paddock.

No farrier wakes up EVERY NOVEMBER and just randomly starts trimming horses shorter than they did the WHOLE REST OF THE YEAR. Generally we have spent the entire preceding year telling you the one same message while you shout "LALALA" back at us with your fingers in your ears.


Post-trimming sensitivity is one of the most obvious warning signs that you will get for subclinical laminitis. When this warning is left unchecked, guess what follows? ACTUAL Laminitis.

We have become so disconnected as a society as to what healthy and appropriate body weight REALLY is. My masters degree research found that most horse owners could accurately identify their horses body condition score on a on a scare of 0-5 where 5 is obese. Some would even jokingly ask me if they could write 6. However when asked about the appropriateness of their horses body weight most of these high scorers felt their horses body weight was just fine.

I see the same thing day in day out as a hoof care practitioner. And the reactions from owners range from flat out denial ("Cobs are meant to look like this, they have big bones" ... Bones don't jiggle Karen!) to just outright offence as though I've personally insulted them or "their horse" or that I am an unkind person for "fat shaming". Your horses feelings aren't hurt. You just don't want to face the truth because it makes you uncomfortable.

It is very sad for our horses that being able to see their ribs from a certain angle has now become more offensive to people than seeing the myriad of health and wellbeing issues humans are creating by letting their horses suffer through chronic obesity and a constant state of low grade laminitis. We need to look back to what nature intended for animals (and ourselves). We have an abundance of carb-rich food in spring following the clear lack of food during winter. Wild / Feral horses would typically lose a lot of body condition during winters. They have minimal grass access and often rely on on fibrous and low-carb mosses, roots, leaves, bark, and their body fat reserves. When animals are consuming less carbohydrates they become more insulin sensitive. When you're insulin sensitive you don't need as much insulin in your system to regulate blood sugar. Then spring comes along and body weight is rapidly packed back on with rich grasses. And with constant and excessive consumption of carbs comes insulin resistance. Which means more and more and more insulin has to get produced to keep blood sugar under control.

In our domestic horses we're so afraid to let our horses slim down in the winter, and keep them in a chronic state of obesity and insulin resistance year round. Because we hard feed them all winter to maintain their "condition" spring hits and they never became insulin sensitive enough to deal with it.

We can also see this insulin resistance in some athletic horses who are fed high carbohydrate diets also - its the horse equivalent of the "skinny-fat" human. The human peak marathon runner who carb loads and gets diabetes and heart disease. Sadly, many of the horses we see with these problems are on "feeding plans" owners have developed themselves using a generic website (often funded by specific feed companies), from vets, or equine nutritionists (who often work for feed companies). You can see the owners well-meaning intent and that's why this breaks my heart. The nutritionists who I respect and recommend are the ones who are the first to tell you that you do not add to your horses diet unless they aren't meeting their metabolic requirements from grass and plain hay first. If I have one more client with a fat, laminitic horse tell me their horse isn't fat and that they paid someone for their feeding plan of processed feeds, I will lose my shit. I am SO passionate about your horses health, that this makes me angry!

(And don't get me started on the inflammatory responses from most of these refined oils that get added cause for some reason people think shiny = healthy).

And most people (including many professionals) are either ignorant of, or overlook, the roll of insulin on hoof sensitivity. Yet the fact that high levels of insulin lead to inflammation is widely know and accepted. And what IS laminitis? INFLAMMATION OF THE LAMINAE.

Your farrier has nothing to financially gain by telling you stop feeding your dadgum horse! Yet we get ignored to the point we often stop commenting to people. And then people say "Why didn't you warn me!?"

Then we hit the tail end of spring, and bingo, another year, another bunch of shuffling underworked and over fed horses, and another year of farriers suddenly shuffling a bunch of desperate "my-last-farrier-trimmed-my-horse-too-short-I-need-your-help" new clients in and a bunch of grumpy "you-caused-this-problem" ones out.

It is no coincidence that all the species of animals that man controls the diet of are the ones that regularly suffer from metabolic malfunctions. We are so smart that we are incredibly fucking dumb sometimes.

I also have a LOT of clients who will ask at each trim if I see any signs of laminitis in the feet. The thing is I can tell you there are low grade warning signs all year but nothing *new* today, and your horse could still go lame tomorrow. The biggest warning signs I constantly see are your horses weight, your feed bucket, and how dry your saddle blanket always is if you bother to exercise your horse at all. But you don't listen to this. You only seem to listen (for a week or three) if I can physically point out blood in the white line.

So, here's my rant for the day. We are getting generally shitty with overwork by the end of the year and in need of a christmas holiday, and we are disillusioned with all these "unexpected" lamenesses in valley full of improved dairy pasture in the middle of unprecedented spring growth.

It needed to come out.

Someone has to say it.

I don't give a shit if I've hurt your feelings, because I want to save your horses life.
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Bissy Jackson - December 11, 2023

Just came across this article. As a farrier located in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., I agree on every point made 😂 the problem is, it’s too easy to put the blame on the farrier. Wish more people would take the “less is more” approach. Great article (rant)!

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