In the United Kingdom, half of the horses are overweight, according to The Telegraph. Leading equine vets have warned that owners have forgotten how to keep their horses healthy, resulting in the gravest threat to horses — obesity, a condition which can lead to other dangerous medical issues, such as laminitis. Hundreds of horses are being euthanized because of laminitis each year, according to experts from the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).
Studies examined by David Rendle, a member of BEVA’s ethics and welfare committee, show that around half of all U.K. horses are now overweight. According to the research, Rendle sees no signs of the obesity epidemic slowing down because owners are not capable of determining a healthy weight for their animals.
“Overweight has become normal, and horse owners no longer appreciate what a healthy horse should look like,” says Rendle. “Show horses are often obese, so this is what people aspire to.”
The growing girth seems to be an increasing trend. Royal Veterinary College researchers found that as much as 70% of native pony breeds were obese. Yorkshire equine veterinarian Joe Mackinder told Horse and Houndmagazine in 2018 that horses admitted to his practice were “progressively fatter and fatter.”
The reason obesity is such an issue is because of the many risk factors associated with it. Dr. Mark Kennedy, a senior manager of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), warns that horses remain at risk for laminitis, even if the disease is identified and treated early enough. Once afflicted, a horse will always be more prone to laminitis. Add in the risk factor of obesity, and the odds are much higher that laminitis will recur.
Equine veterinarians say that in looking at evolution, horses had evolved to lose weight in the winter and gain it back in the spring. However, with improvements in landscaping, horses are able to graze longer on hillsides and moorlands, which stops any natural weight loss.
Using blankets and rugs could also be a cause for horses not losing weight, according to the World Horse Welfare Association. The use of blankets allows the horse to easily maintain its body temperature, and thus allows it to maintain its weight. Previously, horses burned calories by using energy in cold weather to stay warm.
Obesity could be caused by pampering in the winter by owners who view their horses as pets. Experts say those owners tend to overfeed their horses, especially foals, which leads to obesity-related issues.
Sam Chubbock from the World Horse Welfare Association weighed in on the issue, noting that overweight horses are one of the most pressing problems that the equine population is currently facing.
“We advise owners to monitor their horses’ weight regularly, using a combination of weight taping and body condition or fat scoring,” says Chubbock.
Obesity can be prevented with moderate exercise and a strict diet; the key lies in finding a balance between the two.
For more information about equine obesity, how to manage it and its consequences, please read the following articles from the American Farriers Journal archives.