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For Equine Vets Everywhere

Fighting Back Against Equine Obesity: Finding the Way In

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

In our Obesity Special Quarter, Lucy shares her own experiences of approaching conversations with owners about weight management.

It wasn’t long ago that I realised I didn’t really understand the pathophysiology of equine obesity. When Dave Rendle bamboozled me on the subject, I did what most humans do (so the BIT tell me), I shied away, embarrassed by my ignorance.

It was only when Nicky Jarvis explained it in a way that my Prosecco-pickled walnut of a brain could compute that I finally realised I could use this way of explanation to get through to owners. Nicky enabled my ‘eureka!’ moment by describing ‘how excess fat tissue acts like a poisonous organ, pumping out cytokines which c**k up the whole body-system in one go... insulin-regulation goes out the window and then some black magic stuff goes on (which even Dave Rendle doesn’t understand), then you get laminitis and then it’s pretty much game-over unless you starve the proverbial out of that poisonous fat organ’... Aha! Now I get it!

So fresh with the knowledge I could now justify why owners need to starve their horses’ fat pads away (“Nicky Jarvis from Redwings says…”), I started relaying this rather simplistic but effective analogy to my clients, and I can quite honestly say I have never had so many owners respond to my call to arms!

I started receiving profile pictures of horses (my phone’s camera roll now resembles a poor man’s ‘Equine Tinder’), photographic evidence of feed buckets, enquiries about the ‘smallness’ of haynet holes, and rather-hard-to-determine requests to assess the suitability of a horse’s grass turnout. It was the first time I experienced a concerted effort from owners and the desire for a team-approach to weight loss in horses. Yes, we discussed the weigh-tapes, and body condition scoring, and we even started a Weight Clinic at the practice. But, the most inspiring part in all of this was the engagement with, and response from, the owners. This holy grail of mutual understanding and a sense of combined effort and pride of doing the best for one’s horse was overwhelming.

It became obvious to me, that I just needed to find a ‘way in’ with these owners. There are so many ways to get that wrong and this is why it is easier to vaccinate that porky pony and walk away without upsetting anyone. But I now find I am challenging myself to bring up the subject with even the most frightening of owners, those whose family calendars revolve around HOYS and other similar, alien-to-me events. Of course, there is no way I would have the confidence to point out that their Supreme Champion needs a change in management, unless I could back this up with some evidence as to why and, just as importantly, some pragmatic and feasible solutions to the problem.

Hear Tamzin Furtado’s top tips for talking to owners about their horse’s weight here.