The European College of Equine Internal Medicine (ECEIM) issued a consensus statement on a problem affecting a lot of horses called, in general, Equine Metabolic Syndrome or EMS. I want to summarize some key points and add my 2 cents.
The meeting made the following points about EMS, some of which I found shocking (see my conclusion below):
- EMS is more common in sedentary horses.
- Excessive body fat, which harms the horse’s health, is obesity. Most horses with EMS, but not all, are obese.
- EMS is most common in Shetland ponies, donkeys and miniature horses.
- Insulin levels were higher in older horses and ponies.
- Obesity ranges from 21% to 45% in the United Kingdom.
- Obesity is in 10% of Icelandic horses in Denmark.
- Obesity is in 8% to 29% of horses in Canada.
- Obesity is in 24.5% of Australian pleasure horses and ponies.
- Obesity is in 51% of mature light-breed horses in the US.
- Thoroughbreds were the least likely to be obese compared to draft-type, cob-type, Welsh, Shetland, Rocky Mountain, Tennessee Walker, Quarter Horses, Warmblood and mixed breed horses.
Isn’t it interesting that over half the mature light breed horses in America are obese, more than in any other country? I have also noted that the number of horses I see today that are ill or lame is greater than 30 to 40 years ago. A coincidence?
Oh Gosh, Everybody – Here I Go Again!
Last year, I removed the illusion of complexity surrounding feeding horses. Unfortunately, it has been more difficult than I thought. One reason for this is the excellent marketing of misinformation. The second reason is that most of the horse owners I see say, “I will do anything for my horses.” Unfortunately, doing “anything” has become “everything,” with the vultures preying on these individuals with feed and supplements that, at best, do nothing for their horses. At worst, it makes them fat. And fat means inflammation and inefficiencies in the body systems.
Last week I introduced the liver and its important role in blood filtering. Blood from 70% of the gut, with all the sugars, fats and proteins, goes through the liver before entering any other part of the body. I introduced the phrase “liver overflow.” In essence, too much fuel enters the liver, and its capacity to use it overwhelms it. It is like a sink with a limiting drain filled with a fire hose. Eventually, the water overflows the sink. In the liver, all parts become saturated, which leads to inefficiency in fueling the body and distributing the protein needed to make the horse operate. Illness and dysfunction of systems follow.
The fire hose, or the overfeeding of horses, are owners feeding every day too much food. Forage, grains and supplements are abundant, hand-delivered to our barn and stacked neatly with a simple phone call. It is ruining our horses. In the wild, all horses and other animals have a season when food is not as abundant. They are supposed to use body fat for energy. Once you understand cellulose digestion, they eat “poor” pasture, a high-fat diet. Remember that fat develops 20 to 28 times more energy than sugar, so they don’t need to eat as much. When the summer grass returns, the horses gain body fat because, again, winter is coming.
Missing From The Report
I was very disappointed in the ECEIM consensus report because they devoted only a few sentences to protein. They said, “Ensuring adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals are important via a ration balancer supplement.” Yikes! I wrote about a national ration balancer in my blog “Betrayal!” The report never mentioned how much protein a horse should get (read “Chronic Protein Deficiency In Horses“). Studies in horses and humans show the importance of adding protein to reduce fatty liver and fat in the blood (hyperlipemia). Guess what is in all horses with EMS? They have hyperlipemia.
The report suggests starving the horse by removing all grains (yea!), muzzling, restricting hay and pasture, soaking the hay in water (with caution) and increasing exercise. If I were a horse, shoot me rather than starve me! There is nothing worse than starving a horse. Yet, in my experience, horses with adequate protein intake decrease their appetite and naturally lose weight. They also add a top line, flatten their hay belly, improve their hair coat, skin, and hooves, and generally improve their outlook on life.
I cannot understand why addressing chronic protein deficiency at professional meetings occurs. It is the missing link and was missing in this lengthy report on EMS.
What was clear in the report was that there are a lot of fat horses out there. And half of the horses in the USA are considered obese. Can you say epidemic?