A new championship that rewards the slimmer showing pony was launched by the National Pony Society (NPS) at its Summer Championship show at Malvern in Worcestershire (1-3 August).

In the “Fit for the Future” championship, judges nominated ponies in ideal show condition to be weighed and fat scored. These ponies were then presented in a preliminary class and whittled down to a dozen for a final, where the four slim winners each received £200 prize-money.

The NPS came up with the idea after the new Equine Health and Welfare Strategy produced with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) highlighted equine obesity in the showing world as a concern.

Equine osteopath and chairman of the NPS welfare and education sub-committee Liz Launder sponsored the initiative personally.

She said: “A show horse doesn’t need to be covered in blubber, but lots of them are. We wanted to encourage judges, competitors and owners to think about the long-term damage to the animal’s health when a pony doesn’t work off its fat.”

She explained that the aim was to combat the culture of admiring overweight show ponies.

“Some owners use fat to hide conformational sins,” she said, “but others think fat on a pony shows it is loved.”

The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) provided a weighbridge at the NPS show to help a nutritionist from feed company Dodson & Horrell give ponies body condition scores.

Referring to the five-point system where zero indicates emaciation and five obesity, Samantha Lewis of the ILPH said: “Of the 58 or so ponies we weighed from the championships, two scored a 4.5 and the majority of others were between 3.5 and four.”

Carmarthen-based pony producer Debbie Thomas, who had three ponies at the show, pointed out that overweight ponies were nothing new.

She said: “You do see some absolutely obese ponies in the ring, but there are no more than there were 20 years ago. It’s possible to be both fat and fit. Some ponies are just born little fatties.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (16 August, ’07)