In the past, horses would lose condition over the winter, start the year in lean condition and gradually recover over the grazing season.
However, a recent survey of groups of horses spending at least six hours out at pasture has shown that more than a quarter were obese at the end of the winter months.
This alarming trend may suggest that well-meaning winter management strategies such as rugging and a reduction in exercise could be having a detrimental impact on the welfare of horses in the United Kingdom.
The research was conducted by Sarah Giles, Dr Sean Rands and Professor Christine Nicol of the University of Bristol's Animal Welfare and Behaviour Research Group, in collaboration with the WALTHAM® Equine Studies Group, headed by Professsor Pat Harris. They examined the variations in body condition in small groups of horses during the month of February 2011.
A cross sectional study of 127 horses and ponies was carried out in Somerset . Horses were kept in herds of three or more, and were at grass for at least six hours a day. Their condition was assessed using the nine point body condition score (BCS) system and the five point cresty neck score (CNS). The prevalence of obesity (BCS of 7 or above) was 27.6% with a slightly higher incidence in horses, while the prevalence of cresty neck (CNS of 3 or above) was 48.8% with a higher number of ponies affected.
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