Are horses getting even fatter? UK horse owners think so.

Owners have assessed 1 in 3 of their horses as obese, according to an Animal Health Trust survey published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in February. This is up from 1 in 5 in a similar study 3 years ago.

Researchers aimed to find out the prevalence of owner-reported obesity in horses and ponies registered with 30 British veterinary practices, via a postal questionnaire. The survey covered 792 horses, with 247 classified by their owners as either fat or very fat.

This research follows a comparable study, published by Nottingham University in 2011, that found at least 1 in 5 horses used for leisure was overweight or obese.

In 2007, World Horse Welfare launched the Right Weight project to tackle what it then described as “an obesity epidemic”.

So are horses really getting fatter, despite efforts to stem the tide? Or are owners becoming more attentive?

Equine vet Gil Riley, of Pool House Veterinary Group,is optimistic.

“Obesity in horses has really come on to owners’ radars, and the rise in ‘obese’ horses is mainly down to an increased awareness,” he said.

“Many of my clients now monitor their horse’s condition as a matter of routine and act quickly if they notice the pounds piling on. They are more aware than ever that excess fat can contribute to so many ailments.”

A spokesman for World Horse Welfare agreed. 5 years ago, it estimated that as many as 50% of horses were overweight or obese.

“In our experience and on anecdotal evidence, the prevalence of overweight horses has not changed significantly,” said deputy head of UK support Sam Chubbock.

“But we have noticed an increase in owner awareness of weight issues since launching our Right Weight project [for weight loss management and tips] in 2007.”

This article was first published in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine (Thursday 26 May)