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Condition Scoring

Condition: "Is my pony too fat or too thin?"


There is a lot of discussion at the moment about the problem of obesity in native ponies.

Here is an excellent site with unbiased information about the problem:



Obesity:  "Why does it happen and what are the implications?", asks Peter Green MRCVS
(Full article at http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/horsecare/397/62276.html, also more links on a similar theme:)

"Although many judges, breeders and owners of show ponies will hold up their hands in horror and exclaim: "Not in our classes!", the truth is that many of the ponies that regularly head the show lines are overweight. I have discussed this with show pony clients over many years and all of the responsible ones, both judges and competitors, will admit that it is a problem. We know that it is a problem because many of these ponies live for season after season on the brink of laminitis.

Of all our clients, the show pony folk are the best at feeling for digital pulses, noting slight changes in the stance of the ponies, looking for signs of trouble in the feet. Why are they so good at it? Because they have so much experience of the disease.

When this is discussed in public, the usual defence is that true show condition requires a pony to be fit, well muscled and in "peak condition". The trouble is that, for many, "peak condition" means simply overweight. Judges and competitors strive for the perfect outline, particularly the perfect topline, and in many ponies the only way to achieve the full, rounded quarters, loins and croup is to pile on the fat".

Condition Scoring Your Pony

Highland ponies are naturally good doers and most put on weight easily. Over weight can lead to Laminitis and other health problems. The situation is not helped by fat ponies in the show ring which give the idea that all Highland ponies should be that shape! The fact is, it is far more cruel to be "too kind" to your pony and over feed it than have it a bit lean and healthy.




What do you think of the pony on the left? (Well, I probably agree with you, but we are talking "condition" here, not conformation).

And, no, it is not a Highland, but it should still be possible to form an opinion on it's condition!

Too fat or too thin?

Go to http://iceryder.net/bodyconditionscore.html to find out what the experts say! You may be in for a surprise.






Dieting Obese Ponies

Highland ponies have been bred to thrive on poor grazing in a tough climate. That can lead to problems when ponies are kept on rich grazing and given hard feed and not enough exercise.

Simply restricting grazing with an electric fence may help keep weight down but short grass is more nutritious than rank mature grass because it has many growing tips. Those are the most nutritious parts of the plant, but they don't provide much bulk. A bit like a diet of chocolate! On short grass, your pony's intake is restricted, so it never fills its belly, and is permanently hungry and eats as if there is no tomorrow. 

One solution is to provide additional fibre so they can fill their bellies as well as restricting access to grazing. That fibre can be provided in the form of less nutritious hay or straw. Hay varies considerably in quality according to the age and species of the grasses used, the time it is harvested, the length of time it has been exposed to the weather (rain will dissolve out sugars), and so on. Hay for native ponies ought to be well made but they will usually thrive on less nutritious, under fertilised, older natural (i.e. unimproved) grasses. If in doubt, get advice from your vet.

But the bottom line (literally!) is to learn to judge the condition of your pony, how fat it is, and where that fat is distributed. Exercise is essential too. One of my fatties quickly got back into shape by putting her onto a diet of ad lib barley straw, restricted grazing, and giving 20 minutes exercise in the round pen every day.

Here is that  link again showing how to condition score your pony:  Not a Highland pony, but the message remains the same!





This page is under continual and regular revision!