Equine obesity is now considered an equine welfare crisis by many leading animal charities in the UK. With the rise of equine obesity across a nation of horse-lovers, why are we facing an equine obesity problem?
This article starts off by looking at the dangers of obesity in horses before looking at the horse owners’ part in the problem.
The Dangers of Obesity in Horses
With one study finding that less than 1% of horse owners perceived weight gain as an issue, the dangers of obesity are more of a concern than ever for equine welfare advocates.
In horses, obesity contributes to conditions such as insulin resistance and laminitis, which need intensive management and often accumulate large financial costs to support the care of the conditions and horse welfare.
Carrying excessive weight can also put a huge strain on horse health alongside the musculoskeletal system. Putting unnecessary pressure on joints, obesity can attribute to the development of arthritis. Plus, the increased energy expenditure needed to move when horses have a large body mass can increase onset of fatigue and therefore risk of injury.
How Owners Are Contributing To Equine Obesity?
Equine obesity is a multifactorial problem, meaning there are multiple management and individual factors which can contribute to the condition, and combinations of these factors can be different in every horse’s scenario.
Individual factors contributing to obesity in horses include; breed, age and genetics. These cannot be controlled by the owners, however, management of horse diet and lifestyle can be controlled and may reduce the risk of obesity.
Recognition of equine obesity is one of the major barriers to the prevention and rectification of body condition. In one study, researchers found that only 11% of horse owners could recognise overweight horses correctly. Horse owners with obese horses have also been found to be more likely to underestimate their horse’s body condition. However, with the increase in horse obesity, a horse which is overweight could be viewed as the ‘ideal’ weight, due to the normalisation of this body type in the industry.
In addition, horse owners are thought not to be altering their management to the seasons. In the winter, it is natural for horses to lose weight, as food sources and quality become scarcer. On the other hand, in the summer, horses will have availability to a much more nutrient and energy-dense diet. Although, horse owners may not be altering their provision of supplementary feed in accordance with these changes, therefore noticing an increase in body fat year on year.
Access to lush pastures on field rotation and unnecessary hard feed for the horse’s dietary requirements and workload are all factors that can be controlled by the horse owners.
The perception of horses, from working to more of ‘a member of the family’ could also contribute to the equine obesity crisis. In other animals, the application of human characteristics often leads to obesity and incorporates attitudes such as increased concern for health, which is noticeable across equestrians’ on their social media platforms.
It is recommended to monitor your horse’s body condition and speak to a dedicated equine nutritionist on a regular basis, particularly during the change of seasons.