A paper published in collaboration with WALTHAM has been selected as the 2017 ‘Most Commendable Paper in an International Journal’ by the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS). In addition to sharing news of this achievement, here are the take out messages from this exciting equine research.

The paper titled 'Effect of increased adiposity on insulin sensitivity and adipokine concentrations in different equine breeds adapted to cereal-rich or fat-rich meals’ evaluated the effect of feeding either high fat or high cereal meals on body fat, insulin sensitivity and the level of ‘signalling proteins’ secreted by fat tissue (adipokines) in different breeds.


Study Design

Equal numbers of Standardbred horses, Andalusian horses and mixed breed ponies were divided between 3 groups:

  • high fat/oil meal twice daily
  • high cereal meal twice daily
  • Control group


All groups were fed the same ad lib hay and a base ration of soya hulls and a vitamin and mineral supplement. The high fat and high cereal group were fed at 200% of their daily energy (calorie) requirements whilst the control group were fed to maintain a moderate body condition.


  • Feeding the high fat/oil and high cereal meals resulted in significant increases in body condition score (BCS), weight, total body fat mass and plasma (blood) leptin levels
  • Obesity as a result of feeding cereal based meals resulted in reduced tissue insulin sensitivity in all breeds whilst obesity as result of feeding high fat meals did not.
  • Adiponectin concentrations were lower in the cereal fed group.
  • Ponies and Andalusians had lower insulin sensitivity than Standardbreds regardless of diet.


What does this mean?

Unsurprisingly exceeding energy (calorie) requirements resulted in excess weight gain, regardless of the type of diet. Reduced tissue insulin sensitivity is a component of insulin dysregulation – a risk factor for laminitis. Previously it was thought that obesity per se resulted in reduced insulin sensitivity whilst the results of this study suggest otherwise, with only the cereal fed group expressing reduced tissue insulin sensitivity.  Reduced levels of adiponectin have been associated with laminitis and this, together with the potential relationship between diet and adiponectin needs further investigation.



  • Feed according to your horse or pony’s current body condition score. Although none of the horses and ponies in this study developed laminitis, recent weight gain and obesity are still a risk factors for laminitis. Obesity also has numerous other health implications including increased joint strain, respiratory stress and heat intolerance. It can also affect performance.
  • Aim to maintain a body condition score 5 out of 9
  • If ad lib forage alone (which should be fed alongside a balancer to provide vitamins and minerals) does not provide sufficient energy (calories), choose fibre and oil rather cereal based feeds, particularly for ponies and native breeds.


For advice on feeding your horse or pony contact the SPILLERS Care-Line