2015-12-15: Hi! You're probably here because you did a Google search for 'plus sized horseback riders' or you saw my content quoted elsewhere. There are a couple of things I'd like you to know.

I am still here! But I am living away from my horses and not riding often. I could tell you a lie and say that I am, but I have always endeavored to give you the truth here. As a result, I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write blog posts and I feel out of touch with the community.

I'd love for you to stay a while and look back through the archives. Visit the links listed below. We still have an active forum community and I post on the Facebook page from time to time.

I have tentative plans to try to get more involved in the horse world in 2016, and I will absolutely share whatever that adventure becomes with you, so keep checking back!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Blog: “My Horse Isn’t Fat, He’s Just Big Boned” by Dr. Joan Norton, VDM DACVIM

There is a movement happening in the fitness industry, something that has been smoldering for years amongst female athletes that is finally coming to the forefront of heath and fitness magazines and advertisements. The concept that “strength” and “power” is just as beautiful as the traditional stick thin models that grace the cover of fashion mags, “fit is the new skinny.” As a lifelong athlete (who is not thin), I embrace this. I want to scream from the rooftops, “I may not be a size 2, but I can squat twice my bodyweight!” I know this won’t change mainstream media (not overnight at least) but I’m glad there are people out there making noise.

There is a huge discrepancy between how we look and how healthy we are. The best example I can give is of a friend from college who, at first look, would be dubbed a “big girl” and I’m sure coached by so-called fitness gurus to eliminate carbs and hit the treadmill to fight off the ill effects of obesity. No one would know from 20 yards away that she is one of the fittest women on earth, playing women’s rugby (80 grueling minutes at a time) for the United States and competing in the Cross Fit Games. I love that she proves to herself and everyone else everyday that size doesn’t matter, its how you use it, to stay healthy and happy.

So how does this relate to our horses? This is, after all, a blog about big horses, not just big women. The connection is the disconnect between size and health.

Unfortunately the obesity epidemic has not only affected our children, dogs and cats. Horses, with the high starch/sugar grains that we feed and the limited turnout and exercise, have fallen victim as well. But it is difficult to tell by looking, whether a fat horse is an unhealthy horse.

The reason we worry about obesity in horses is because it is directly related to Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Insulin Resistance (IR). Much like Type II Diabetes in humans, EMS and IR contributes to excessive/abnormal fat deposits, lethargy, inability to lose weight and some real medical concerns. EMS horses are predisposed to developing laminitis, a painful condition where inflammation separates the hoof wall from the coffin bone. Because they do not process sugars and starches well, even small fluctuations in carbohydrate intake can lead to an acute crisis.

But not all fat horses have EMS, just like not all heavy people have diabetes. But how to we even determine if a horse is “fat?” Getting an accurate weight on a horse is difficult. Unless you live near a hospital or clinic with a walk on scale, you are stuck with using a weight tape, and unfortunately those are not very accurate. And anyway, we all know that the number on the scale is no way to estimate health! Long ago we created Body Condition Scores (BCS), a number that you can give a horse (on a scale from 1-9) based on the presence or lack of adipose (fatty) tissue in certain locations. The BCS gets us closer to an answer because studies show a high correlation between high BCS (>6) and EMS. BCS however is a subjective number, no measurements taken. So one person’s 6 may be someone else’s 7. And we all know we have a blind spot when we’re judging our own horses and may not be critical enough with our score. To combat any prejudice we may have when we score our horses, there are two other scores, ones that involve hard and fast numbers, that have recently been developed.

The first is the Obesity Score. Measure your horse’s girth in inches and divide that number by the height at the withers. If the score for your horse is >1.26, he is Overweight. Greater than 1.29 falls into the Obese category. Ponies are considered Overweight with a score >1.33 and Obese if their score is over 1.38. Another score that is highly correlated with the presence of EMS and insulin resistance is the Cresty Neck Score. For this, you must measure the circumference of the neck in 3 places, behind the pole, in the middle and just before the shoulders and calculate the average of these numbers. Next measure the length of the neck from the bridle path to the withers. Divide the average circumference by the length. Horses have a Cresty Neck with scores greater than 0.63 (0.68 for ponies).

These measurements are quick and easy to do and don’t require too much math. They are a great way to screen your horse for obesity related problems. If your horse has a Cresty Neck or is Obese, talk to your veterinarian about testing for Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance, because recognizing the problem and treating it early will prevent serious consequences, like laminitis, and help keep your horse healthy and happy.

For more information about this problem, how to diagnose and treat it, please enroll in our Online Course: Equine Metabolic Syndrome and check out our blog, Strong As A Horse and our Facebook Page for healthy horse tips!


Today's guest blog is written by Dr. Joan Norton, VDM DACVIM. A little bit of background from her website:
Dr. Joan Norton VDM DACVIM was born in New York and raised in the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area. She fell in love with horses at an early age and never had any doubt that veterinary medicine was her calling. She spent most of her childhood at the barn and traveling up and down the east coast competing in the pony and junior hunters with trainer Carol Thompson. While attending Kent School in Kent, CT she had the opportunity to train with Olympian Michael Page during the school year, spending her summers competing in the junior jumpers as a working student on the A-circuit with trainer Bert Mutch. Highlights of her equestrian career included championships at Lake Placid, Pony Finals and the Washington International Horse Show.


  1. "The first is the Obesity Score. Measure your horse’s girth in inches and divide that number by the height at the withers."

    Would that height also be in inches?

    Hoping to disprove to my farrier that my mare is fat... or prove to me that she is! lol

  2. Great info - thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow!! Awesome post! Thanks so much for all of the great info!

  4. Nancy, the height should also be measured in inches.

  5. Does the create neck score also apply to breeds that have big necks? I have a draft style haflinger and I suspect he would be considered "cresty" even though he is a very fit competitive trail horse.

  6. Cresty neck score - darned auto correct =P

  7. I think it will still apply but you may need to use the 'pony' reference ranges for a halflinger. With larger draft breeds (clydes, percherons) the length of the neck balances out the larger circumference in the equation, but the smaller horses with stocky builds (like the halflinger) should use the 'pony' scale which is a modified number to take into account naturally thicker but shorter necks.