One of the most common problems large animal veterinarians see is overweight horses, ponies and donkeys. Many of these animals develop laminitis and founder, painful foot conditions that can end in euthanasia, so weight loss is critical for these animals. Most of these animals are overweight because they are eating grass that is too high in carbohydrates. You have to change the diet but exercise has also been shown to increase weight loss, so if the animal is not already foundered and too painful to walk, exercise can be helpful.
However, it is difficult to exercise donkeys and ponies because many of them cannot be ridden like horses. Plus, most owners do not have the time to hand-walk donkeys and ponies, but an Australia group came up with a novel exercise plan by using food as a means to stimulate activity. Researchers in Australia developed a novel dynamic feeding device and studied to see if exercise alone would decrease body fat. The study involved eight mixed-breed, overweight ponies that were fed alfalfa and a vitamin mineral supplement. The ponies were housed in a dry lot with custom-made feeders that alternatively opened on opposite sides of the pens for five minutes at a time. The team collected data on the amount of exercise the ponies performed by GPS technology when walking to eat. When the feeder was turned on, the ponies walked for almost 2 hours more twice daily, which significantly decreased their body weight and body fat percentage. This study shows that a low carb diet and consistent low-intensity exercise associated with a dynamic feeding system can lead to weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity. Or, instead of walking your dog every day, walk your overweight pony as doing so could prevent founder.