Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Insulin Resistance and Horses

Corrie has been doing a better job on her weight loss program than I have. Maybe I need to have someone lock me in a dry lot and control how much food I got. Okay maybe not but it is sure working for her. Like in humans there are several reason why it is important to keep horses fit and trim. Health issues pop up more readily in unfit animals. Insulin resistance, or Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), is a one of them and is comparable to type II diabetes in humans.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the of Islets of Langerhans. I just wanted to type Islets of Langerhans. Makes me think of a series of little islands near the pancreas, but I digress. Simply put, the purpose of insulin is to help break down carbohydrates (sugar and starches), fats and proteins and get it out of the blood system. When the horse has eaten a lot of carbohydrates the body need to produce more insulin. On the other hand when working the body produces less.

The problem happens when the horse's cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. The pancreas in turn produces more insulin than is needed. The body just doesn't seem to know how many carbohydrates are in the body. So what, right? Well that in turn leads to bad things like reduced body weight due to losing muscle mass, fatty deposits over the tail head, behind the shoulder or over the loins, cresty neck, and the worst of all, chronic laminitis. It is that last one that often pushes people to see their vet's help. My worry over Corrie's recent lameness issues is what prompted me to think twice about this condition.

When I talked to my vet about having Corrie tested, he assured me that they could do that, but he was not positive that it was necessary. Plus every thing I have found says that is not the most reliable test. Horse should be tested more than once due to normal fluctuations. After we found that she did not have laminitis it seems that she probably is not insulin resistant. He suggested that I just feed Corrie as if she were insulin resistant since she already as so many precursors already. She

Feeding a EMS horse is not really all that tricky, especially with all the information out there now. Most important in feeding a EMS horse is to keep sugars and starches to a minimum. This means no lush pasture. No sugary treats like apples or carrots. Feeding grassy hay and having it tested for sugars. Soaking the have for 30 -60 minutes is also an option to get rid of extra sugars in the hay. Adding supplements can help too. There are supplements out there now jut for the EMS horse. Often they contain such things as cinnamon, fenugreek, and magnesium.
These are the most basic of guidelines.

In almost every article I read about EMS horses, exercises was always listed too. Exercise helps reduce the amount of insulin in the body, as well as helps keep the horse at a good weight. Riding, driving, lunging, ponying, even hand walking help the EMS horse, as long as she is not laminitic. For the Laminitic horse, one should consult with their vet for an exercise program that won't aggravate their conditions.

This as been a very very basic overview of EMS. I have over simplified some parts just to get the basic gist down. Also, I have not brought up Cushings, but it is closely related to EMS. My intent was just to give basic overview. I listed some more articles below that you can visit for more information.

Balanced Equine Nutrition
Need to sign in to The Horse:
No Sugarcoating: Diagnosing and Managing the Insulin-Resistant Horse
GetSmart Series: Managing Insulin Resistance

Obesity and Cushing's Disease


  1. I think that is a very wise decision to put Corrie on an IR diet. It will help with weight loss that is for sure.

  2. We have a number of horses that are IR at our barn, and all your recommendations are good ones - we also use a chromium/magnesium/selenium/vitamin E supplement which makes a big difference.

  3. Yep I'm sort of feeding Chrome like that too just to prevent future problems because he's an easy keeper. It definitely can't hurt. Maybe look into a ration balancer instead of sweet feed. I use Enrich 32 and I love it. You might want Enrich 12 though for the lower protein. It's something to look into anyway.


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