Half our horses could be obese — and many owners are blind to the problem. So found a recent study by University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Questionnaires were sent to 500 leisure horse owners registered with Oakham Veterinary Hospital in Leicestershire, of whom 160 responded.

The owners were asked to body score their horses and one in five said they thought their horses were overweight or obese.

But when 15 of these horses were physically assessed for condition by researchers, it was found several owners had significantly underestimated their horse’s weight, suggesting the number of overweight or obese horses could be as great as 54%.

Dr Sarah Freeman supervised the research and said: “This provides a snapshot of the prevalence of obesity in horses in the UK.

“Eight of the owners had scored their horse at least a grade lower than the researcher did, indicating that many underestimate their horse’s weight.”

She said a larger scale survey would be useful to get a fuller view.

The research does not surprise Vicki Alford of the Blue Cross, which launched a Fat Horse Slim campaign last year.

“Forty per cent of the horses coming into our centres are overweight or obese,” said Vicki.

“Equine obesity can be a killer, but many owners are not aware their horse is overweight.”
And Lee Hackett, the British Horse Society’s head of welfare, said the findings corresponded with the society’s experience.

“We are seeing a lot more genuine welfare cases concerning overweight horses than we have done previously,” he said. “Obesity leads to a compromised immune system, so fat horses are more likely to pick up bugs. And it has a very negative effect on fertility. It really is dangerous.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (3 February, 2011)