Weight watchers – a tale of 4 native ponies

Having 4 natives for many years, you learn a few things about how to manage good doers. Over the years we’ve had Penny, cushings and laminitis; Saffron who I believe has some metabolic issues but thankfully has never had laminitis; and Rosie, who is a Shetland, need I say more? In fact the only one we can leave pretty much alone is Misty, who’s a New Forest and happily doesn’t have any metabolic problems.

We’ve made many mistakes over the years, but feel that we have learnt a lot from them.

I’m going to post a couple of photos that I am not proud of, but to illustrate Saf’s obesity problem and what happened when I didn’t know how to manage her or what I was doing at all really.

I’m still unsure how Saf didn’t end up with laminitis, I just couldn’t see it at the time.She had the usual fat covering, but in particular had a huge crest. This was back in 2009 when Penny was having laminitic episodes on and off. Saf and Misty would be on ‘lawnmower duty’ and eat the grass down before Penny went on to it. Not ideal, but at the time I didn’t know what else to do with them.

Years before this, when Penny’s lamintis was fairly regular, being an ignorant child, I was feeding Penny a bag of this new fangled ‘balancer’ mix. Of course at the time I had no idea that the bloody thing contained 20% starch and gawd only knows how much sugar, despite being marketed as being suitable for ‘every type of horse requiring a balanced diet’. Penny thankfully hasn’t had a single lamintic episode in nearly 10 years. I can’t explain why, other than maybe her metabolism has changed with age. Of course she is no longer fed horsey ‘fast food’ either that I guess that helps.

My primary concern now is Rosie Shetland. She has had a few episodes of laminitis over the years, nothing too serious as we’ve managed to nip them in the bud, gaining experience thanks to Penny. We’ve not had her blood tested for cushings as she doesn’t have any other cushings symptoms, but there’s some kind of metabolic issue going on there.

Our field is predominantly ryegrass, which is fine if you want to fatten up cattle who are only required to live for a few years, but a nightmare for natives. Until I get my dream field which I can reseed with a strictly ryegrass free ley, I need to work with what I have.

Enter the track system! Ok we’re limited with what we can do on a livery yard, but I feel very strongly that is the right thing for Rosie and Saf. It’s about 4 metres wide and goes all the way down the field (6 acres). They have their water up the top, hay down the bottom, so they need to walk a fair way for a drink. I’m currently experimenting with the amount of hay they are having (they get fed twice a day). The more time spent eating hay (and there is very little rye in it) the less time they’re eating the grass. This can only be a good thing! Rosie has had a muzzle on, which she accepts, but she’s not wearing it at all currently as I want to see how she goes with the hay diet. I’ve also had her stabled during the day, but I feel that the lack of movement negates any benefits of being off the grass.


So, to sum up:

Weight watching no-no’s:

  • Molassed, high starch feeds
  • Ryegrass (boo!)
  • Lazing around the field not moving very much


Weight watching yay’s:

  • Hay instead of grass (experiment still in progress)
  • Exercise (hacking, hand walking)
  • Exercise (track ensuring more activity in the field)
  • No commercial bagged feeds, but a decent mineral mix such as EquiVita, Pro Balance, Forage Plus etc.


Does anyone else have a good doer / easy keeper? Leave your story in the comments 🙂


Emma & (a very trim) Saf x



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