My Underweight Horse: A Hard Lesson Learned

My Hungry HorseWhat do you see in this photograph?  I came across this while going through some old photos, and I thought to myself, “underfed, probably rescue horse”,





About 3 seconds later it dawned on me that this was a photo of my Thoroughbred mare, Skigh, taken almost exactly a year ago.  I felt sick with guilt and anger at myself that I had allowed my mare to become so thin and unhealthy.  At the time this photograph was taken, I was beginning to have a bad feeing about the place I was boarding her and I ultimately moved her to safety in the early spring, which in retrospect was much too late.

SO, HOW THE HELL DID I LET THIS HAPPEN?   I’ve trained horses for over 20 years.  I know the basics of good horse nutrition and body conformation.  I would put food in my horse’s mouth before I put food on my own table.

I’ve thought this over obsessively and here is what I’ve come to:

  •  I saw my mare almost every day last summer and the changes were incremental enough that I wasn’t shocked.
  • I fed her 10 lbs of Equine Senior Active daily, the maximum recommended amount. I figured this would keep her at a healthy weight.
  • I was optimistic rather than realistic, and I didn’t use an objective measure that worked for me to track her body condition.
  • I had owned horses who were easy keepers prior to owning Skigh and so I was not tuned in as well as I should have been to her body condition.

The following is the body condition score available from


At the time of the photo from last year, Skigh was a score of 3 to 4.

Here’s another photo of her from my Facebook timeline on June 2, 2016:

body score 4Not as bad as the top photo, but it still makes me cringe.

Here are the changes I’ve made since last summer:

  • I got out of what was a toxic boarding situation.  The place I boarded Skigh seemed to have plenty of nice people and a good vibe initially.  It can take months of paying attention (which I wasn’t always good at, being busy teaching and training, thinking my horse was being well-cared for, etc., etc.) to see subtle patterns of neglect.  In the end it boiled down to one big thing–my horse didn’t get enough hay, and what she got was poor; and one other pretty big thing:  after I arrived, some new boarders turned up and that mix of people made for a less supportive environment.  Having gotten her to a safe place, I now can see in hindsight how internalized my horse was..  Of course, she felt all this more than I did.
  • I now take a photo of my horse from the same angle on the 15th of every month.  The objective record has become a crucial part of my record keeping.
  • I looked HARD for a quality place to move my horse.  Like any facility, it has its share of distractions.  What has gone on since March 1, since we moved, is that my horse is more relaxed and happy than I’ve seen her since we first met.

Take a look!

trotting Skigh

Is my horse hurting?

hurting horse?

If you’ve spent time around horses, you know that they can be incredibly stoic.  (Some humans could take a lesson here.) This article from UC Davis talks about reading horse expressions more accurately to pick up subtleties in how our horses express pain and discomfort.

via UC Davis Uses Software to Map Equine Pain