World Horse Welfare has commended a Radio 4 soap opera for its storyline addressing weight issues in horses.
An episode of The Archers featured a Shetland pony that is discovered to be overweight, an issue the equine welfare charity says is common in the unnaturally mild weather.
In the storyline, Champion, a fluffy Shetland pony, is being groomed when it is revealed that he is not as fluffy as thought. Instead he is carrying excess weight, and his owners are advised to give him more exercise.
World Horse Welfare says that the episode, broadcast Wednesday 3 January, raises awareness of an important issue among equine owners, including the risks of weight issues and how owners can solve them.
Horses’ body conditions can sometimes be disguised in the winter, when thick winter coats, mud and rugs make it harder to accurately observe a horse’s body.
The equine charity says that horses would normally lose weight during winter, before putting it back on in the spring when the grass grows. However unseasonably mild weather has meant that the grass has continued growing in many places, providing extra calories to horses.
This could mean that many horses will continue to gain weight through both winter and spring.
Obesity can be detrimental to a horse’s health, and increases their chances of developing laminitis, a painful and debilitating affecting their feet. It also adds extra strain to their heart and lungs, adds pressure to their limbs and joints, and makes them less able to perform exercise.
World Horse Welfare have created a collection of guidance for horse owners to help them manage their horse’s weight, including advice on how to fat score a horse, weight loss tips and a weight chart to track their horse’s weight loss journey.
The guidance includes videos, a webinar and a downloadable leaflet.
Sam Chubbock, head of UK support at World Horse Welfare, said: “Maintaining a horse at a healthy weight can be very difficult and one of the most common health issues owners struggle with is their horses being overweight.
“With this winter’s weather it is looking like the spring could prove an extra challenge for anyone trying to maintain their horse at a healthy weight.”
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