Can you recognise an overweight horse?

Obesity remains a welfare crisis in the UK, particularly amongst leisure horse and ponies. In order for successful weight loss strategies to be put in place, owners must first be able to recognise that their horse or pony is overweight. Although there are several methods of monitoring weight/ body condition, many owners assess their horse’s condition by eye. Research conducted in collaboration with SPILLERS set out to evaluate owners’ perception of obesity and report on management factors that may influence the high prevalence of obesity in the UK.

 Grazing Muzzle

Study design

Horse owners, riders and trainers (collectively referred to as ‘horse managers’) were recruited from various UK equine forums and asked to take part in a two-tier internet based questionnaire. Tier 1 gathered information about the participant’s age, gender and involvement with horses and then asked a series of questions to evaluate their perception of obesity. This included asking participants to identify overweight horses and ponies from a panel of 12 images. All of the horses used had been body condition scored by an experienced assessor. Completion of Tier 2 was optional and gathered information the health, management, exercise and diet of the participant’s horses.

 

Results (Tier 1)

  • In total 539 people completed tier 1 of the questionnaire.
  • 89% of respondents identified themselves as amateurs and 19% as professionals.
  • Only 11% of respondents correctly identified all 6 overweight horses and ponies.
  • Over 70% of respondents considered 2 horses (both cobs) to be overweight when they were in fact in ‘ideal’ body condition.
  • Two horses (a sports horse and a cob) were rated as being too underweight for showing compared to other disciplines.
  • There was no significant difference between amateur and professional responses.

Take home message

This study found that both amateur and professional ‘horse managers’ vary in their ability to visually identify overweight horses and ponies. In addition, respondents also considered it appropriate that horses and ponies intended for the show ring carry more weight.

 

Test yourself

Below are the photos that were shown to the horse managers who took part in the study. Can you pick out the ones that were classified as overweight by the experienced assessor? We’ve put the answers along with the horses Body Condition Score (BCS) at the bottom of the article so you can see if you were right…

 

Obesity in horses Obesity in horses Horse obesity Horse obesity

SPILLERS Tips

 

  • Obesity has numerous health and welfare implications including an increased risk of insulin dysregulation and laminitis, excess joint and respiratory strain, reduced tolerance to heat and poor performance.
  • Rather than assessing your horse’s condition by eye alone, body condition score regularly, aiming to maintain a score of 5 out 9. Ensuring you also use the scoring criteria will help you to remain objective!

Test yourself: Answers

A: Overweight. BCS 7/9

B: BCS 5/9

C: Overweight. BCS 7.8/9

D: BCS 5/9

E: Overweight. BCS 7.7/9

F: BCS 5.3/9

G: Overweight. BCS 7.8/9

H: BCS 5.8/9

I: BCS 5/9

J: Overweight. BCS 9/9

K: BCS 5/9

L: Overweight. BCS 7.8/9

A Body Condition Score of 7 or above is considered to be overweight. For help assessing your horse’s condition try our online BCS tool

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