Vets’ extreme disappointment at overweight show horses at Royal Windsor

  • VETS and welfare experts say they were “extremely disappointed” to see overweight horses competing and being placed at Royal Windsor – but it is hoped the event is proving to be a catalyst for change.

    The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) contacted H&H with its concerns over some of the horses shown at the event (11–15 May). H&H has reported extensively on the epidemic of equine obesity, and the related significant welfare implications.

    “BEVA was extremely disappointed to see overweight horses taking part in Royal Windsor Horse Show and being highly placed,” a spokesman said. “A huge amount of effort has been put into educating the equestrian world on the risk to health posed by obesity, and there has been great progress made at a number of shows and classes. However, despite this, some horses continue to be willingly and intentionally kept in obese condition and rosettes continue to be awarded for it. “

    BEVA added that obesity-related laminitis is a frequent cause of death in UK horses.

    “We strongly urge owners, riders and judges to speak to their vet or qualified nutritionist and learn how to identify horses that are overweight,” the spokesman said. “This will enable weight management measures to be instigated to avoid this agonising, preventable and life-threatening condition, as well as other adverse effects of equine obesity.

    “BEVA has been discussing the subject with members of the showing community, and recognises that work is being done alongside welfare organisations to clarify judging standards in relation to obesity. We will continue to support these efforts and applaud those members who are improving equine welfare in this regard.”

    Showing Council chairman Jane Nixon, a highly experienced equine vet, told H&H she was also at Windsor, and agreed there were obese horses there.

    “It was more prevalent in some classes than others, which I think others would agree with,” she said. “Across the board over the past few years, especially since the start of Covid, we do seem to have made some inroads, but there’s no question, obesity still exists.

    “We need to look positively at the situation; a lot of hard work has been done, by welfare groups, vets and showing organisations. We need to take a positive view, but much still needs to be done.”

    Dr Nixon added that Windsor highlighted the issue, which “could be considered a watershed moment”.

    “I think the balance is now tipping towards horses in the appropriate condition,” she said. “BEVA is right; obesity needs to be challenged, in the right way. I think we need to be proactive, and say well done to those doing it right, but that it is still there, and a serious welfare issue.”

    Tamzin Furtado, a researcher who has been working on a project to give awards to the horses in the best body condition in major showing classes, agreed with BEVA.

    “It was disappointing to see overweight horses being rewarded in some showing classes at Windsor,” she told H&H. “We know there are groups within the showing community who are passionate about making changes in judging standards and have made progress in this regard, but unfortunately change has not been as quick to permeate all classes as we might hope.”

    Dr Furtado added that Windsor has “been a catalyst for some extensive discussions about how we can encourage further change”.

    “We are very hopeful that additional support for judges, show organisers and competitors to celebrate healthy body condition will soon be in place,” she said.

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers told H&H: “There’s still a significant challenge in raising awareness of the critical health implications of equine obesity, and it’s got to be a collective effort, including showing and the judging within it. Weight management is not easy, but it’s vital for equine health.”

    Equine obesity will be on the agenda at the Showing Council summer conference on 28 June. For tickets, visit: theshowingcouncil.co.uk

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