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For Equine Vets Everywhere

Fighting Back Against Equine Obesity: Recognising the Problem

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

Equine obesity is indisputably one of the biggest threats to equine welfare in the UK. BEVA President and Chair of our Ethics and Welfare Committee, Lucy Grieve, shares how tackling it has become an obsession of hers.

Equine obesity is probably not a huge issue for those working with racehorses and elite sports horses, but for those of us working with almost all other members of the UK equine population it will be an all too familiar encounter.

I qualified in 2007 and spent a significant portion of my early years seeing the sculpted, svelte Thoroughbred inhabitants of Newmarket. I have to be honest, it hit me like a train, some eight years later, when I entered “real practice” and saw the scale of the problem.

It would be easy to assume it’s a concern only for native breeds, ‘happy-hackers’ and retired field ornaments, but a day on duty at the local one-day event was even more distressing when I realised some owners were expecting their overweight horses to carry them around pretty sizeable cross-country courses, and at speed! If I close my eyes, I can still hear the huffing, puffing, and thundering of those ‘heavy horses’ across the forgiving Fenland ground, and it makes my toes curl thinking about it... this was a veterinary concern I was not prepared for, nor did I have anything in my car with which to treat it.

It became a bit of an obsession, which was propagated by some fairly harrowing cases I picked up on routine calls. The chronic laminitic which was “being managed”, the show horse which wobbled out of its stable, the cute kids’ pony which was branded “lazy”... They started popping up like moles on a freshly cut lawn.

Then there were the euthanasias resulting from obesity-driven laminitis, where the owners were genuinely horrified that their horse had suddenly succumbed to this, seemingly, ‘indiscriminate evil’ without warning. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their horse’s death had been entirely preventable. I’m not even sure how easily I would be able to do that now.

However, I have made it my mission to try and warn owners of the dangers of letting their horses become overweight, and to not give up on any owner, no matter how in denial or resistant they are. I’ve tried various tactics to get through to them, by becoming increasingly “scaremongering” with my stories or showing increasing interest in and support for their attempts to

do something.

It is not an easy task and I still find the odd owner who really does not want to engage, but I do feel that a vast majority of my efforts are not in vain. Whilst I can’t possibly speculate on the number of lives saved, I can honestly say that I am seeing an increasing number of owners who are willing to discuss the topic. When approached in the right way, more owners are admitting that they could do something differently in their horse’s management.

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