Britain’s horse vets get serious on fat busting

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Part of BEVA's new "What you say isn't what they hear" information for veterinarians.
Part of BEVA’s new “What you say isn’t what they hear” information for veterinarians.

Britain’s lead veterinary body is ramping up its efforts to tackle the “ticking time bomb” of equine obesity.

Equine obesity is indisputably one of the biggest threats to equine welfare in Britain and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has launched a second phase pilot project to help increase engagement with vets and owners on the topic. Veterinarians are also being guided on how best to talk to owners about their overweight horses.

BEVA President Lucy Grieve said equine obesity was 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 is an all too familiar encounter”.

She said that approaching the conversation about a horse’s weight with an owner can be difficult. “Sometimes what we say is not what the other person hears but making small changes in how we word things can have a big impact.” 

BEVA has been tackling equine obesity for several years now, recognising that veterinary professionals are in a unique and privileged position to support owners. It has teamed up with Tamzin Furtado, a social scientist at the University of Liverpool with a background in global health, and a specific interest in how human behaviour change can improve the management of obesity in horses, to provide advice and guidance on having difficult conversations about equine obesity. 

Last summer’s pilot scheme using a traffic light colour system of vaccination reminder stickers which vets can place on the front of passports at each vaccination appointment has been simplified for further trials; the updated scheme involves vets issuing a black or white sticker during a vaccination visit, relating to the horse or pony’s current weight. The QR-coded sticker directs owners to a series of five short videos providing practical advice on ways to manage or reduce their horse’s weight by looking at hard feed, exercise, grazing, hay and rugging.

“Using a less direct method of communication such as this seems to make it more comfortable for owners to recognise and accept that their horse is overweight,” Grieve said. “This should be the kickstart they need to embark on a supported path of rehabilitating their horse to a healthy body condition.” 

Equine obesity is indisputably one of the biggest threats to equine welfare in the UK.
Equine obesity is indisputably one of the biggest threats to equine welfare in the UK. © Sarah Shephard / BEVA

Support for vets centres on a short video The elephant in the room: How to address the topic of obesity in horses, as well as relevant research and CPD courses. Additional resources include a body condition scoring chart, a weight management guide and a ‘What you say is not always what they hear’ poster, together with access to relevant research and CPD.

“Obesity is a ticking time bomb,” Grieve said, “and we all need to work together to avert the crisis. By initiating conversations in the right way, we can help owners recognise and maintain a healthy body condition for their beloved horses and ponies. In so doing we should be able to significantly reduce the many serious obesity-related health problems — surely this is the biggest motivator for all of us to engage with this project.”

» BEVA’s equine obesity page is accessible to BEVA members here.

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