Fifteen obese ponies were used in a body weight (BW) reduction programme (BWRP, daily energy intake: 7.0–8.4 MJ/100 kg BW). A frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test was used to assess insulin sensitivity. Subcutaneous adipose tissue biopsies of the tail head were obtained for mRNA gene expression profiles of adiponectin, retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), interleukin 6 (IL-6) and macrophage activation marker (CD68) before and after BWRP. Blood samples were analysed for serum leptin, serum RBP4 and plasma adiponectin. Significant BW losses occurred with 7 MJ DE/100 kg BW. Serum leptin and RBP4 were initially similar between insulin-resistant (IR) and insulin-sensitive (IS) ponies, and both significantly decreased during BWRP. Compared with IS ponies, IR ponies initially had significantly lower plasma adiponectin levels. At the beginning of BWRP, mRNA expression of RBP4, adiponectin, IL-6 and CD68 was similar between IR and IS ponies. Plasma adiponectin was strongly related to IR, whereas serum leptin and RBP4 were closely linked to adiposity, independent of insulin sensitivity. Adipose tissue mRNA expression profiles did not clearly reflect these differences. However, the role of subcutaneous adipose tissue in IR remains open.