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Effect of obesity and pasture on blood pressure in horses

Last changed: 05 October 2020

Obesity is associated with insulin resistance, vascular dysfunction and altered cortisol metabolism both in humans and in horses. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the effect of weight gain induced by a haylage diet low in nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) on insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and serum cortisol concentrations.

Study design

In vivo experiment.


Nine adult Standardbred mares were fed a fat supplemented haylage diet at 250% of the horses’ daily metabolisable energy requirements for 22 weeks. Horses were then turned out on pasture for 4 weeks. Insulin sensitivity (SICLAMP) was measured before and after weight gain and after 4 weeks of pasture using the euglycemic hyperinsulinaemic clamp (EHC) method. Body condition score (BCS), blood pressure and serum cortisol were monitored throughout the study. All data were analysed using the linear mixed model procedure. Values of P < 0.05 were considered as statistically different.


All horses became obese during the weight gain period (BCS> 7). Mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) increased during the weight gain period and was significantly higher than initial values at the end of the weight gain period (78 ± 3 mm Hg vs 92 ± 3 mmHg). MAP remained increased on pasture (93 ± 3 mmHg). SICLAMP was unaffected by weight gain 0.9 ± 0.1 vs 1.0 ± 0.1 ([mg/kg/min × 103]/[µIU/mL × mmol/L])) but improved after pasture (1.6 ± 0.1 ([mg/kg/min × 103]/ [mU/L]). Serum cortisol concentrations increased during the weight gain period (80 ± 9 nmol/L vs 112 ± 9 nmol/L) and remained increased during pasture.

Main limitations

Limited number of horses and no control group.


Obesity was associated with a linear increase in blood pressure and an increase in serum cortisol that was not associated with insulin sensitivity.

Link to the publication


Nostell, KLindåse, SWinqvist, EBröjer, JThe effect of diet‐induced obesity and pasture on blood pressure and serum cortisol in Standardbred maresEquine Vet J2020001– 7.


Katarina Nostell
Senior Lecturer at the Department of Clinical Sciences; Equine Medicine Unit

Telephone: 018-671356