There is a body score rating for horses called the Henneke Body Score. It's basically a scale from 1 to 9 with 1 being emaciated & 9 being obese. On the Henneke scale Maark is definitely a TEN! He has fat pads on top of fat pads.
The shadowed areas in the photo are rolls of fat bulging through very tight skin. Poor Maark is so uncomfortable in his own skin that he's not only super itchy, he's sensative to the touch & his skin ripples under your hand. It has to be awful to be this morbidly obese.
Just about every horse person knows about equine abuse. It's acts of cruelty, neglect & starvation. What most are not aware of is that another form of abuse is "killing them with kindness" or "loving them to death". Lady & Maark's former owner is a wonderful woman who loved her horses. She did everything she could to take care of them. They had stalls to shelter them from the elements, & they were stalled every night to keep them safe from the dangerous in the dark. When turned out they were able to eat lush grasses. Their hay was the best, timothy & brome, & they got their daily scoop of grain. They even got tasty horse cookies. Unfortunately all this wonderful care just continued to put weight on them until they reached an unhealthy status. In 2007 Lady foundered from over feeding while in the care of someone else. Luckily she recovered from the founder but her metabolic system was compromised. She & Maark are both obviously IR, or Insulin Resistant.
This picture of Lady's croup shows the classic IR fat pad. Her ribs are showing but she has odd fatty desposits on her croup; her neck is crested; her throatlatch is fat; & she has fat deposits above her eyes. The average horse person would think her thin by virtue of her ribs. She is NOT thin. She's in metabolic distress from obesity & her weight is distributed in odd fashion.
IR is similar to early Type II Diabetes in people. It's a condition in horses where the body cells are unable to absorb glucose due to an inability to respond to the hormone Insulin. The function of insulin is to activate cells to take in glucose. When the insulin fails to activate cells to take in glucose, the pancreas produces more insulin than normal in an attempt to get the glucose into the cells. While there may be a genetic predisposition to develop IR, there are a number of factors that can act as triggers. A few are high carbohydrate diets; high fat diets; mineral deficiencies or imbalances; lack of exercise; obesity; & stress.
Some of the symptoms of IR are: easy weight gain; abnormal fat deposits; lethargy; increase in water consumption & urination; puffiness (fat) in the eye hollows; muscle soreness; muscle wasting & loss of body condition; & the worst is laminitis. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. It's a condition that can become fatal if not treated quickly & properly. If you have a horse that gets sore feet when the spring grass is lush, please don't hesitate to call your vet. It could save your horse's life. One of the effects of long term, untreated IR is liver damage. The condition is called Fatty Liver Syndrome because the liver swells from trying to store excess glucose. If your horse is obese, please alter his diet & implement an exercise program. Please consult with your vet to improve your horse's health & to possibly save his/her life.
Because IR is a metabolic disorder & not technically a disease, it's not controlled by drugs. The treatment for IR is management of diet & exercise. Ideally hay should be tested to insure it's low in starch & sugars. Grain based feeds (core & wheat based pelleted feeds included) should be eliminated, as well as any other high non-structural carbohydrate feeds (NSC). These can include "senior" feeds, molasses, apples & even carrots. Grass hay or other acceptable low NSC feed should be the bulk of the diet. Beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber & provides the same calories as oats without the increase in blood glucose. If you can't find molasses free beet pulp, you can soak & rinse until the water runs clear to wash out the molasses. If your horse can tolerate exercise (never during an acute laminitis episode), even 30 minutes of hand walking will increase the muscles' demand for glucose & therefore reduce IR symptoms.
Something else that can aid in treating the IR horse is balancing mineral levels. High iron & low magnesium have been associated with IR. On the advice of my trimmer, Sally, Lady & Maark will be supplemented with magnesium oxide. They are also being given CA Trace, a mineral supplement specially formulated for the hay in my area of N CA. I've also read the chromium is an important mineral for IR horses. If you're in doubt about the analysis of your feeding program, you can have feeds tested by http://www.equi-analytical.com/ . I've also read that 1 tablespoon daily of freshly ground milk thistle seed can help IR horses because it has a protective effect on the liver. Whatever you choose to supplement, it's important to make sure it's balanced.
There's so much information out there & the internet makes if fairly easy to learn how to care for you horse in a manner that won't jeopardize his/her health. If you take in a "project" horse (which I have a penchant for doing) there's a wealth of knowledge to help you on your journey. In a few short days I've learned more about IR that I ever wanted to know.
This is Maark one week after his arrival. He currently weighs 1467 lbs, which is the weight of the light draft breeds in Europe. Maark is a purebred arabian! Given his bone substance & size, he should only weigh 1000-1050 lbs, 1100 lbs max. If you compare this picture to the one taken the day he arrived, you can see that he's less bloated & his fat bulges are smoother in appearance. He hasn't lost weight so much as his IR symptoms are smoothing out. Since he & Lady arrived, they've been on DRY LOT pasture. They are not allowed on grass for their safety. I'm currently feeding them an oat hay because my grass hay tested high in starch & sugars. I'm waiting for the results to come back on my oat hay. In the meantime I'm shaking the oats out before feeding & I'm feeding in handfuls spread around their acre. This is allowing them to "graze" 24/7 without being overfed. Yesterday I added a little soaked & rinsed beet pulp to their diet so that I can feed them their mineral supplements. I believe Maark is stable enough that he can begin a very easy, slow walking, exercise program this week. While Maark is walking, Lady can enjoy rolling in the sandy roundpen, never out of each other's sight so they don't become stressed. This is going to be a long journey but I do see an end in the not too distant future.