• 19 October 2015

Equine obesity still on the rise reveals new survey

Despite the risks posed by equine obesity it seems that horses and ponies in the UK are still piling on surplus pounds. Almost a quarter were recorded as overweight or obese in this year’s National Equine Health Survey (NEHS), an increase of 37% per cent on last year’s figures.

However, the good news is that the survey showed increased awareness and understanding of condition monitoring methods. SPILLERS® is helping horse owners to take responsibility for weight management by providing new practical tools and information on their website.

NEHS is a snapshot survey run annually by Blue Cross every May, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and sponsored by SPILLERS® and Zoetis.

This year 23.2% of horses were assessed as being overweight (with a score of 3.5 to 5 on the 0-5 scale), a continuation of the upward trend seen in previous years (16.9% in 2014 and 7.8% in 2013). On a more positive note the survey showed that owners are keen to tackle the problem. 96% changed their management to try to control weight. Preferred methods included reducing hard feed (20%), strip grazing (15%), soaking hay (13%), restricting turn out time (12%), grazing in a bare paddock (11%), reducing forage (9%), changing hard feed (6%) and using a grazing muzzle (5%). Around two thirds (64%) of respondents used a weigh tape to assess their horse’s weight, showing a significant increase from last year (51%).

“Whilst it’s alarming that this year’s data shows a rise in obesity we hope that it might simply be the result of increased recognition of the problem,” said Clare Barfoot, Research and Development Manager for SPILLERS®. “It’s particularly encouraging to see a higher number of people using weigh tapes, which hopefully reflects increasing awareness of the importance of assessing condition, as a direct result of educational campaigns.”

Last month SPILLERS® introduced two new online tools to help them keep track of their horses’ condition. Hot on the heels of the recent development by independent researchers of a Body Condition Index (BCI) for horses, SPILLERS® has introduced the innovative online BCI calculator.1 It works in conjunction the new SPILLERS® online Body Condition Scoring tool to make it easier for owners to manage their horses’ weight, via mobile and tablet devices, on the yard.

For friendly feeding advice please telephone the SPILLERS® Care-Line on + 44 (0)1908 226626 or visit www.spillers-feeds.com. To download a copy of the NEHS results please visit www.bluecross.org.uk and to register for next year’s survey please visit www.bluecross.org.uk/nehs.

1Derivation of a new body condition index to estimate body fat percentage from morphometric measurements: comparison with body condition score, Samantha Potter, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Pat Harris, WALTHAM Equine Studies Group, WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Leicestershire, UK, & Simon Bailey, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, to be presented at the Equine Science Symposium May 2015 Florida