Event Judges Favor Obese Horses, Study Finds

North Carolina State University scientists estimated the prevalence of obesity among high-level, competitive, hunter show ponies (USEF Pony Finals, August 2021); and looked for an association between obesity and success during “in-hand” “model” classes that only include conformation and appearance as performance elements.

Obesity was evaluated using the Henneke 1-9 body condition scoring (BCS) system and the Carter 0-5 cresty neck scoring (CNS) system.

The researchers evaluated 377 ponies and considered most (93%) overweight with a BCS of 6 or higher, and more than a third (35%) as obese with a BCS of 7 or higher. The mean BCS was 6.7 (range 5.25-8.25) and the mean CNS was 2.8 (range 1.75-4.5). Medium-height ponies tended to be fatter with higher CNS compared with large ponies. Even more concerning was a link identified between obese body condition scores and higher Model class performance scores. More obese animals clearly scored higher in the classes judged on conformation and appearance.

Given the increased risk obesity creates for laminitis, as well as other orthopedic and medical problems, the authors felt rewarding obese animals with higher performance scores is of grave concern to the industry and should be addressed.

— Pratt-Phillips S et al. JEVS 2023;121:104199

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Albert Kane

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, Ph.D.

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