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For Equine Vets Everywhere

Fighting Back Against Equine Obesity: BEVA’s Story So Far

News BEVA News Obesity Council Project Ethics and Welfare Committee
29 Apr 2021 BEVA

Our Ethics and Welfare Committee launched a project in 2017 looking at how we can help reduce equine obesity. Lucy Grieve, Chair of the Committee shares the work achieved so far…

BEVA pledged to tackle obesity when the Annual Members’ Survey kept revealing that it was one of the biggest concerns for equine welfare amongst equine vets. There was no naivety within BEVA as to what an enormous challenge was being set.

With so much evidence of failure throughout the human and small animal worlds, we decided we needed to do something new and different to what has been done before. As such, we invited the Behavioural Insights Team (aka BIT or “The Nudge Unit”) to run a workshop with us to explore how we, as vets, might be able to positively impact equine obesity by effecting human behavioural change. If you haven’t heard about The Nudge Unit you really need to Google them, or better still read ‘Inside the Nudge Unit’ by David Halpern – it’s inspiring stuff!

Although horse owners are the only person in the equation who can truly facilitate and effect weight loss in horses, it is clear that equine vets can, and do, play a vital and highly influential role in how that objective is reached. Through discussions, and with the help of a survey conducted by BEVA Council Member Nicky Jarvis, we realised how little routine engagement there is between vets and owners on the subject. As an Association we decided this is where best to focus our resources in the first instance.

With a lack of engagement between vets and owners on the subject, it’s no surprise horse owners are unknowingly lacking a source of appropriate, honest and constructive influence. How many horse owners are out there living in ignorant bliss of the damage their horses’ weight is silently doing, until it’s too late?

It became clear that if we want to start insisting something is done about the welfare of overweight horses, the laminitis and utter suffering that follows, then we really had to get our own camp in order, rather than point fingers at owners who were largely lacking the knowledge and understanding rather than actively seeking to harm their horses.

Our first pilot, launched in January 2020, tested a system which used traffic light-coloured ‘flu vaccination reminder stickers. Each colour of sticker featured a QR code which provided access to weight management advice, specific to whether the horse was a healthy weight (green), mildly overweight (amber) or obese and at significant risk (red). The objective was to assess whether the system prompted and facilitated discussion between vets and owners with regards to horses’ weight. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we had to cut the pilot short, however feedback from the participating practices reported the sticker system had a positive effect on engagement.



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