Abnormal depositions of fatty tissue are referred to as fat pads or patchy fat. Characterized by their raised appearance and spongy feel, fat pads are found on horses in moderate to obese condition. Their development, regardless of a horse’s weight, may be an indicator of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
Fat pads typically develop behind the shoulder, atop the ribcage, over the loin and croup, and around the sheath, though they may form anywhere fat naturally accumulates.
The most common fat pad, and likely the largest, develops along the crest, or upper curve of the neck. Unnaturally crested necks—those not inherent to members of certain breeds—can be quickly identified because horses will often have an abnormal tissue divot in front of the withers.
Horses with EMS should be kept on a strict low-calorie diet and encouraged to exercise so long as soundness is not an issue. Starch should be kept to a minimum. An easy way to nourish an easy keeper with EMS is to feed late-maturity grass hay instead of early-maturity hay and concentrates.
Hay will not, however, meet all nutrient requirements, especially those for vitamins and minerals. Certain dietary supplements can be helpful in meeting those requirements. (I.R. Pellet, a micronutrient supplement developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER), provides an ideal balance of vitamins and minerals without excess calories and is low in nonstructural carbohydrates, so it is appropriate for horses with metabolic conditions.)
One final way to combat EMS is to regulate a horse’s rate of consumption. A horse’s digestive system is designed to process small amounts of roughage many times each day. The use of grazing muzzles, limited pasture time, smaller meals offered frequently, and slow-feeder devices can regulate a horse’s consumption of feedstuffs and promote a healthy weight, thus reducing the risk of EMS.
The development of fat pads on a horse should not be taken lightly because it can be indicative of IR or EMS.
For more information on IR and EMS, especially how to feed horses with these problems, download a copy of Nutritional Management of Metabolic Diseases.