The equine obesity epidemic: what can you do to help?

  • What can you personally do to help in the fight against the equine obesity epidemic?

    This was the question asked of all of us at the National Equine Forum yesterday (4 March).

    The virtual conference covered topics from Brexit to diversity to road safety, and also returned to the topics of two associated webinars, held in January.

    One of these was The Great Weight Debate (Equine), a discussion featuring a horse owner, a vet, a livery yard manager, a nutritionist, an equine welfare officer and Showing Council chairman David Ingle.

    Tamzin Furtardo, whose PhD was on equine obesity and owners’ attitudes towards it, and who was also present for that webinar, summed up the issues raised in the discussion, including the prevalence of images of overweight horses, leading to a perception than fat is normal, confusion over what to feed and the challenges of managing horses who need to lose weight.

    “All of us — every single one of us, including me, have been part of creating this world our horses live in, so we’ve all been part of the problem,” she said. “But that means we can also all be part of creating the solution.”

    Dr Furtado said our horses live in an obesogenic environment, or one set up in such a way, it becomes very likely the animals or people living in it will become overweight.

    “We’ve been unravelling all these different strands that have contributed to creating that obesogenic environment,” she said. “So how can we move forward?”

    Dr Furtado said all of us should recognise the part we can play, whatever our role in the equestrian world.

    “But we need to change our behaviour,” she added.

    “We can empower each other to help change things for their horses; even if you haven’t got an overweight horse, you can help other people feel it’s acceptable to achieve weight management. One thing discussed at the webinar was peer pressure, on livery yards and social media, in terms of weight management.

    “People tell others they’re cruel by not rugging horses, or using grazing muzzles, and that makes it difficult for the owner, even though they know they’re doing what’s best for the horse’s welfare. We can support each other rather than having that negative pressure.”

    Dr Furtado said owners should ask professionals about their horses’ weight at every opportunity, and be ready to take the answers on board and accept it if told the horse is overweight. The professionals, such as vets and farriers, should be working with owners rather than blaming them, and be open and honest, so owners can be open in return.

    “Livery yard owners and managers have a really important role,” she added, explaining that helping owners with weight management can make a huge difference, such as providing low-grass areas and flexible management options.

    Charities can, and have been, helping vets have the difficult conversations about excess weight, while competition governing bodies should have clear plans on tackling obesity, and help judges and stewards feel able to have conversations with owners of overweight animals at shows.

    Continues below…

    “If you’re a stakeholder not mentioned, there are still absolutely important things for you to do,” Dr Furtado said.

    “The NEF has been fantastic in bringing us together and providing the platform, and now it’s up to us, as individuals, organisations, professionals, to find ways to move forward.

    “Things are already happening but we’ve got a long way to go, so I’d like to leave you with this question: no matter what your role is, what are you going to change, to help in this obesity epidemic?”

    What do you find challenging in managing horses’ weight? Email hhletters@futurenet.com for your chance to be featured on our letters page. The letter of the week wins a bottle of Champagne Taittinger.

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