Ponies think fat is sexy! Ponies think fat is fun! Ponies are the sumo wrestler champions of the equine world. And they don’t need chocolate bars and fish and chips to pile on the weight - some ponies seem to get fat on the smell of an oily rag! Sadly though, the enormous stresses on a pony's body caused by over fatness lead to a serious risk of founder or laminitis, and as responsible owners, we have a duty to prevent it.
Laminitis (founder) is an acutely painful inflammation of the lining (called laminae) in the feet, mainly the front feet, and it’s one of the major causes of lameness in ponies in New Zealand.
Laminitis can be recognised by the ‘lean-back' stance of the affected pony, as it tries to relieve the pain in its forefeet by leaning back so that most of its weight is carried on its hind feet.
Veterinary advice and treatment at an early stage are essential because apart from being very painful, laminitis can lead to permanent crippling and distorting damage to the feet.
Feet that have had laminitis for a while grow ridged and distorted horns, and it can be very difficult if not impossible to treat them effectively once the condition has reached this stage.
Occasionally, laminitis is caused by acute inflammation such as womb infections after foaling, but in the great majority of cases, it’s the result of an over-rich diet, ie too much grass.
With careful management of your pony's food and its weight, you can dramatically reduce the risk of it developing this condition in the first place.
The spring grass is romping away, and if your pony is at all plump, it should be on a diet. This might involve stabling or yarding, or simply fencing off a small area of the paddock with electric fencing so that it can continue to hang out with the other horses. The important point to remember is that you must restrict the pony’s access to pasture.
You should offer a slice of hay morning and evening, but you have to impose a strict weight-watchers regime.
Remember that all ponies need ready access to clean drinking water at all times, especially in warm weather.
Don’t give your dieting pony any hard feed, like concentrates or grain. This can cause laminitis too.
Your plump little pony certainly won’t thank you for keeping it off pasture, and will probably make a point of sucking in its cheeks and staring at you reproachfully each time you pass. But when laminitis is a risk, you have to be tough to be kind.