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Posted: 7th December 2023

Experienced pony owners not preventing obesity, study finds
Native ponies have a higher risk of obesity and ID, which can result in laminitis.

Owners recognise weight-related conditions, but do not manage weight to prevent them.

A study has revealed that some experienced native pony owners are not effectively managing their animal’s weight, despite being confident with identifying weight-related conditions.

The survey found that, while horse owners with over 20 years’ experience of looking after native ponies were confident in identifying weight conditions such as obesity, they were not using weight management strategies to prevent obesity in the first instance.

The research, conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) with the Waltham Petcare Science Institute Equine Studies Group and the Rowett Institute (University of Aberdeen), surveyed 571 native pony owners in Scotland using an online questionnaire on their weight management techniques.

Native ponies have a higher risk of obesity and insulin dysregulation (ID), which can result in laminitis.

Owners of ponies with, or more at risk of, obesity, laminitis or equine metabolic syndrome were more likely to use weight management practices to reduce the risk of obesity and improve metabolic health.

The most common weight management approach used by native pony owners was the monitoring of body condition.

The survey showed that 92 per cent assessed their horse’s weight daily, weekly or monthly. More than half (52 per cent) of these owners, however, used only visual assessment to measure body weight, rather than any standardised or measurement-based approach.

The research also sought to discover how native pony owners were using preventative strategies to manage their pony’s weight.

Responses revealed that only 13 per cent of owners used nutritional analysis of preserved forage. The SRUC says that using nutritional analysis would enable owners to make an informed choice about their pony’s diet.

Ashley Ward, lead researcher and a PhD student with SRUC and the University of Aberdeen, said: “This research shows that experience in the management of ponies doesn’t necessarily mean that owners are more likely to undertake a variety of weight management approaches that could be beneficial to their pony’s health, wellbeing and longevity.

“It highlights a variety of weight management approaches that could be promoted among the native pony-owning community to improve practices that help safeguard ponies against obesity, which will in turn lower the risk of conditions such as ID and laminitis.

“It will also provide practising veterinarians with an overview of where they can promote good practice in their native pony-owning clients.”

The full study can be found in the journal PlosOne.

Image © Shutterstock

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