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Honos Horse Sense: Education Over Blame



Honos Horse Sense, where we have quick conversations on equine nutrition topics.


Owner’s Perceptions on Body Condition Require Education, Not Blame.


“Equine obesity is considered a serious health and welfare concern, and existing research has shown that horse owners consistently underestimate their horse’s body weight”. This is a common introduction into the topic of equine body condition and owner perception. But that’s not the conversation we want to have today.


We see this trend of horse owners seeing a horse with a BCS of 6 and thinking that this is an ideal body condition score, which is actually in the upper range of a healthy body condition score, and when a horse is moving towards being overweight. This, in turn, skews the whole perception of the body condition scale.


A 2017 study reported that of 290 horses, the median BCS was 6, supporting that for a lot of horse owners, this is the condition they want to see on their horse (Kosolofski, Gow and Robinson, 2017).


Other studies have reported that owners perceived their animals to have significantly lower body condition compared to the assessments made by researchers (Potter et al, 2016), which may be contributing to the increasing trend of obesity in domestic horses. This again speaks to how the owner’s intentions are for their horse to be healthy, but they have a hard time confidently assessing whether their horse is at a healthy weight - emphasizing a significant knowledge gap.


And the thing is, I think people are too quick to blame the owners. Horse owners WANT their horse to be healthy, so a tendency to want more fat deposition is not something that the horse owner is focusing on. They want their horse to be healthy, and if what they are seeing is matching their idea of that, of course they are going to base their feeding programs according to that idea. It’s not an issue of owner responsibility, but of owner education. 


Understanding owner perceptions can help to target education around preventative health care, to help reduce the risk of conditions such as insulin dysregulation and laminitis (Potter et al, 2016). 


A 2020 study that interviewed various members of the horse industry, and focus groups with horse owners who were thinking about or currently managing their horse’s weight, reported owner confusion and uncertainty surrounding body fat on their horses (Furtado et al, 2020).


“Owners view their horse’s body as a physical manifestation of good or responsible ownership practices, with optimal health perceived as mirroring the quality of care provided (Furtado et al, 2020).”

These authors also reported that owners had conflicting views of their horse’s body condition even within the same interview, with fat considered an indicator of health, part of the horse’s shape, or a sign of disease. 


The owners also lacked certainty about whether their horse’s breed, their natural shape, and the presence of fat, and as a result, have a hard time interpreting what they see when they look at their horse.


We have to change the conversation around owner involvement. I think this trend is a reflection of the complicated, vague information available on how to score body condition, how to detect fat deposition, and where fat deposition shows up in the horse. It’s not a reflection of horse owners being irresponsible. Yes, as animal caretakers we have a responsibility to commit to learning more, but learning cannot occur in isolation. Horse owners want their horses to be healthy, so it’s the industry’s job, and the professional’s job, to give them the tools and support them in achieving this. 


I think it’s also important to remember that for most of the equestrian population, this is a hobby. They have outside jobs that they are funding their hobby with, but as such, do not have time to be an expert in every single aspect of equine health.


This is where the team of equine professionals comes in - your nutritionist, your vet, your bodyworker, etc., they are there to support you. A good professional will help support you and equip you with the tools to succeed, they won’t attack you for not knowing because that is why their role exists, and frankly if they do, I’m incredibly sorry you had to experience that. 


HOW CAN WE SOLVE THIS? 


We are working on a BCS tool - keep an eye out for Instagram polls to help us target your concerns and give you the tools you need.

  • BCI measurements - while fairly newer, and reported to have lower accuracy for leaner horses, the BCI measurement was shown to have great accuracy in ponies. Learn more about BCI index.

  • Cresty neck scoring - learn more here


Need help body condition scoring your horse? We’d be happy to help, free of charge. 


 

References


Busechian, S., Turini, L., Sgorbini, M., Pieramti, C., Pisello, L., Orvieto, S., Rueca, F. 2022. Are Horse Owners Able to Estimate Their Animals’ Body Condition Score and Cresty Neck Score? Vet Sci 9(10): 544. 


Carter, RA., Geor, RJ., Burton Staniar, W., Cubitt, TA., Harris, PA. 2009.Apparent adiposity assessed by standardised scoring systems and morphometric measurements in horses and ponies. The Veterinary Journal 179(2): 204-210.


Kosolofski, HR., Gow, SP., Robinson, KA. 2017. Prevalence of obesity in the equine population of Saskatoon and surrounding area. Can Vet J 58(9): 967-970. 


Potter, SJ., Bamford, NJ., Harris, PA., Bailey, SR. 2016. Prevalence of obesity and owners' perceptions of body condition in pleasure horses and ponies in south-eastern Australia. Aust Vet J 94(11): 427-432.



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