The little thin mare

Date posted: 1st September 2012

This is a story of a mare who I bought 3 years ago. I bought this horse purely because I felt sorry for her as she was so thin. She was 7 years old and been used as a broodmare so I knew she would take some time firstly to get her weight up and then to be able to start riding her. I have bought several underweight horses previously because I like to think that I can make a difference to them and give them a better life where they will be well looked after then one day when they are looking as they should be and well trained I can think about finding them a good home for life.

Friesian horses are very good doers so they are not often underweight unless they either have not been looked after or if they have an underlying problem, I know this but sometimes my heart rules my head as it did with this mare.


The transporter picked her up and phoned me to ask if I was aware of the condition of this horse, which I was but when she arrived I still got a shock! she looked like someone had thrown skin and hair over a skeleton,her backside just had no fat and no muscle at all, her spine was sticking out and her ribs all visible. Because she was so thin I had to question if she was pure Friesian as she looked like a TB cross,  she had all of the correct paperwork, was registered and graded etc. First thing was to get her wormed, I was expecting to find lots of worms in her droppings but…. nothing, next thing the dentist was booked but as soon as she clocked the dentist she was having none of it and no way was she having any official looking person near her so next the vet came and had to sedate her (this is the one and only Friesian that I have ever had sedated to have a normal examination and rasping of teeth) to my amazement no problems in her mouth either. She was terribly head shy and would not let me put a bridle on her so while she was sedated we also checked in her ears but ..no problems again!

She hated men with a passion and was very aggressive towards them and yet if anyone raised a hand too quickly she was gone and very quickly which is so strange for a friesian, they are normally well loved for being such kind natured horses and want to come to people but this one clearly had issues.

Because of her aggressive behaviour I was advised by a vet to have her put to sleep but that is not in my nature and I have to admit I found her quite intriguing as to why she acted the way that she did and why she was so thin.

I spent months feeding her small feeds often (4 feeds per day at one point) as well as her having good grass and haylage and hay. Basically she ate as much as she wanted (after building it up slowly initially) but she still didn’t put weight on. She had a lot of nervous energy, she would pace in the field and never settle so I decided I would try her out at grass in a quiet field away from the activity of the farm and so she became nanny to two foals and she took her responsability very seriously. She did thrive on this and gained some weight but never looked good. She is pictured below with a filly who she claimed as her own (when the foal had been weaned from her actual mother), she protected this filly as though it were her own foal.


After two years of her being fed and countless theories, tests, dentists, vets etc etc she was still showing ribs and hip bones sticking out. I thought she was just far too thin to ride and I still couldn’t get a bridle on her, although she now trusted people and she was no longer afraid we still had this little problem of the bridle. One day though I decided I will just get on her without the saddle or bridle and just ride her out to her field in the morning if she would allow it. She did and didn’t mind me being on her at all so from then on I continued to this and we went out hacking which she loved. I bought her a special endurance bridle which I could take apart to put on her which was fantastic. I thought maybe riding her would perhaps cover her with muscle as I knew she was not going to store any fat. She did develop muscle which made her look better but still her body shape didn’t look good and still remained thin. She certainly looked a lot better than she did when she arrived but never as she should look.


She turned out to be a fantastic little riding horse who was so keen to go out riding, she would have loved endurance and that I am sure but because of her condition she could never be taken out into public as people would think she was being neglected. Her coat was always shiny and her mane, tail and hoof growth was quite incredible, she was always bright in her eyes and very active but for whatever reason she couldn’t store fat and the amount of muscle that she would hold was significantly less than any normal horse. Most friesian’s look very muscular and real power houses but sadly not this one, she looked like a different breed altogether when standing next to any other one of my friesians.

Financially she cost me a lot, with her original price, transport and constant upkeep, vets etc she was would be somewhere between £5000-£6000. I would have never wanted to sell her on because 1) I obviously run a business and selling a horse in that state would not be a good advert for what I do, I would not like a reputation for selling underweight horses and 2) I would not like her to end up in the wrong hands again.

I am pretty sure she has had very rough treatment in her life which explains her mental problems and fear but the physical problems and inability to gain weight I will never know the answer to.

If I could go back in time I would still have bought her but certainly not for the price that I paid, I would hate to think where she may have ended up. I have now given her to a lady who owns one of my other friesians, (he is a shining example of his breed) and she has gone on the condition that she must never be sold and must return to me if she has to go anywhere. I have lost thousands of £’s with this horse but I still wouldn’t change helping her.

I have learned a very valuable lesson from this and that is that a thin horse does not necessarily mean that they simply have not been fed, they may have some serious underlying issues!  I am now very careful with who I buy horses from as I have learned a very costly lesson!


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