Ponies often receive less medical care than standard-sized horses. Perhaps this is because people perceive that they are hardier than larger horses, or because they are of less monetary value. Ponies live an average of ten years longer than horses, and are often outgrown by their young owners and left in the care of empty-nesters who may know little about horse care. Ponies require regular veterinary care in order to enjoy optimal health, and some of their medical needs are unique from those of other horses. I will outline them here.
Ponies have very low metabolic rates, and are extremely susceptible to obesity. A devastating result of obesity is laminitis, which is one of the most common reason that ponies have to be put down. This disease is extremely painful, incurable, and should be avoided at all costs. The best way to avoid obesity and laminitis is to eliminate free choice pasture, alfalfa hay and all grain from the diet; the ideal diet includes minimal grass, good grass hay, and a vitamin supplement. Your vet should see your pony a minimum of once a year to evaluate its weight, and should teach you, the owner, how to evaluate weight by feeling the ribs. Ponies are tricky to evaluate for weight, since their long hair coats and rounded rib cages can hide an emaciated body. In contrast, a very obese pony may be perceived to be at normal weight since both fat and normal weight ponies can look very round.
If your pony develops laminitis, it will walk very stiffly. Call your veterinarian right away. Immediate attention to this disease is the best way to help halt this disease and relieve pain. If you are inexperienced with horses, ask your horseshoer to evaluate your horse gait at every trim.
Our clinic recommends that all horses have a dental examination at least once a year. This is especially true in ponies, because they live so long – often in to their 30’s and even 40’s. If they do not have proper dental care starting at a young age (two years), they may lose their teeth long before they become aged. Proper preventative care can preserve dental comfort and save teeth.
The older pony commonly develops a condition called a pituitary adenoma. This is a noncancerous growth on the pituitary gland that imbalances hormone production. Symptoms may include a long hair coat that sheds out late or not at all, pot belly, weight loss, and laminitis. Inform your veterinarian if your pony has any of these symptoms. Blood tests and treatment may be indicated. This disease, to our current knowledge, is not preventable. It is important to avoid obesity in ponies early in life, however, since laminitis from this disease appears to be much worse if the pony was obese and/or suffered from laminitis earlier in life.