What a Weight Tape Tells You About Your Horse’s Health

Weight tapes aren’t very accurate at telling you how much your horse weighs. While two horses may have the same girth circumference — what you measure with the tape — differences in their body type cause them to weigh different amounts. Yet a weight tape is an excellent measure of weight change, a very important indicator of equine health. To monitor weight fluctuations, take and record your horse’s measurements with a weight tape once a month as a matter of course, and then weekly or even daily if you suspect an abnormal gain or loss trend.

Consistency in application is key to getting meaningful data from your weighing sessions. Here’s how:

Step 1: Circle your horse’s barrel with the tape in the same place every time you weigh him, just behind the elbows, about where the girth normally goes. In this location, neither his breathing nor a recent large meal will affect the reading. 

Step 2: Maintain the same moderate tension on the tape, holding it snug against the skin each time you measure. Don’t let a thick winter coat add “pounds” to the results.

Step 3: Measure at approximately the same time of day and under the same conditions each time. A horse just back from a brisk workout measures thinner than he does after he has cooled out and had a long drink of water.

Every horse participating in strenuous sports has an ideal competition weight, and a variation of as little as 30 or 40 pounds in either direction can take the fine edge off an athletic performance. Seasonal changes or alterations in exercise regimens can cause gradual and acceptable weight fluctuations, but consistent weight loss that doesn’t correspond to work or weather or respond to dietary adjustments could indicate that the horse is suffering from systemic illness or parasite infestation. An abrupt drop in weight can occur with serious cases of dehydration or diarrhea.

Red Alert: A sudden weight increase resulting from fluid retention may indicate a life-threatening disorder, such as heart failure or kidney shutdown.

Courtesy of Stable Talk by Farnam