Horses are now affected by Britain’s obesity epidemic
27th March 2013
horseBritain’s spiralling obesity crisis appears to be affecting more than the just the NHS and their ever-increasing budget restraints. It seems the expanding waistlines on riders is creating extra strain and causing the horses numerous health problems. Research published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour indicates that around a third of recreational horse riders are too heavy for their mounts and placing the horse at danger of developing back pain, arthritis and lameness; a term used to describe a wide number of conditions that basically affect the horse’s ability to travel about in a ‘normal’ manner. Obvious signs of a lame horse include a reluctance to put weight onto a painful or affected side, limping and an excessive ‘nodding’ of its head each time it puts weight onto a certain hoof (foot). The study comprised of an analysis of 152 horses together with their adult riders. Guidelines warn riders to weigh-in at less than 10% of the weight of their horse. To put this into context, it is estimated that an average stable horse weighs around 500kg to 600kg (79 to 94 stone); therefore the horse’s rider should ideally weigh 60kg (9.4 stone). Shockingly, only 5% of the riders in the study met this 10% guideline. The researchers from Duchy College in Cornwall discovered that 32% of the riders tipped the scales at over 15% of their horse’s weight. This is sufficient to cause injury and health problems for the horse. The other 63% of the riders were found to weight somewhere between 10% and 15% of the weight of their horse – a ‘satisfactory’ level. In addition, it was found that heavier riders are also putting the horse at risk of suffering with behavioural problems, such as bucking, rearing and disobedience. Dr Hayley Randle, one of the scientists involved in the study, said: “People tend to think horses are such big animals they must be okay, and not to take notice of the weight issue of riders. But the health impact on the horse can be quite extreme, quite quickly.” She added: “The problem is that these ratios are not widely known by people in the horse industry. People do seem generally to be a bit heavy for horses. That is just a consequence, I suppose, of our average weights going up. It is definitely a potential welfare issue. These are broad-brush guidelines. They don’t take account of all factors, such as the age of the horse, the breed, the style of riding, or the experience of the rider. But they are still important and helpful and people are not taking enough notice of them.” Even though guidelines within Dr Randle’s research say the ‘optimum’ weight for a rider is less than 10% of the weight of their mount, it is more lax in U.S., with a 20% limit in place. In another region that is facing an obesity crisis like in the UK; that could result in many horses with serious health problems. Keith Chandler, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association, added: “Many riding schools are very aware of these problems and exactly who can ride which horses and who cannot, but there are some horse people who may not fully understand the issues. There is a discussion which needs to take place in the horse riding community. There needs to be an awareness that some larger riders need to ride bigger horses.”