At the risk of sounding like I’m showing off, I recently had to take a riding cup to be engraved. This is a pretty rare occurrence, so it was nice to have the opportunity to go to one of my favourite shops — a well-known high street key cutter and shoe heeler. It’s great in there. The men who run it are quick and efficient, but full of banter, and it’s hard to leave without a smile on your face.
On this day there were two members of staff. One of them pointed at the other and announced to the assembled customers: “My mate over there has just lost five and a half stone!”. We all looked suitably impressed and “ooh’d” and “aah’d” appropriately. He blushed a little.
When I called back in later to collect the cup, it was he of the miracle weight loss that served me. I congratulated him on his new svelte shape, and he smiled a little wistful smile.
“This weight loss business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he said. “I quite liked being ‘the chubby one’ among all my friends. And I really really liked eating all the foods that kept me that way”.
It struck me that my New Forester (pictured) shares this point of view. He regards eating as a very serious business. A full haynet has to be emptied in the shortest possible time, so that as soon as he has demolished it, he can stand by his door with an imploring “nobody feeds me” look.
If I wander around the stables at feed time, the others will come to their doors to be fussed over. He will keep his nose plunged industriously into his net, like a toddler with an ice cream, until every scrap is gone. Nobody told him that thin is healthy!
And while the weight piles on at the drop of a hat, woe betide me if I try to remove it! He hangs on to every last calorie of food as though his life depends on it. Last summer we had to fitten him up for a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. I restricted his intake and trotted him up and down a lot of hills. Yet whenever I put the weight tape around his not insubstantial belly, the number stayed resolutely the same. He somehow managed to be fit and chubby at the same time, and is now the proud holder of a Silver award.
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Obesity in horses, as in humans, is not a good thing, and in recent years there has been a lot of discussion about it in the industry, with show judges in particular now tasked with calling out the worst cases. However, when it’s not about building ‘show condition’, but simply that your horse is on a mission to pile on the pounds despite your best efforts, it can be a real challenge. Spring is particularly tricky. While his fieldmates are happy to pause from grazing occasionally to doze in the sunshine, he is as busy as ever, on a self-imposed but deadly serious deadline to clear the field before it’s time to come in.
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