A NEW pilot project to tackle the equine ‘obesity welfare challenge’ has been launched by the British Equine Veterinary Association.

Vets are being encouraged to use vaccination appointments to assess a horse's body condition – and then place a red, amber or green sticker on its passport to signify both the date of their next vaccination and the state of the horse’s health.

A green sticker indicates a healthy body condition, and an amber one will suggest the horse is carrying too much fat tissue and needs moderate changes to diet, exercise, management, rugging and clipping regimes. Red will imply that the horse is carrying excessive amounts of fat tissue which are placing the horse in morbid danger.

Obesity is one of the biggest problems facing equine welfare in the UK but despite the best efforts of numerous equine welfare charities to address the issue, a significant proportion of owners are either not recognising obesity in their horses, or not being motivated to subsequently take action.

BEVA decided to confront the problem in a different way, using knowledge gained from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – a government think tank specialising in behavioural economics and psychology.

President elect of BEVA, Lucy Grieve, explained: “Determined to look at new ways to positively engage with horse owners, we harnessed the BIT’s experience of what methods work most effectively and came up with a simple, practical scheme revolving around vaccination visits, which could be affected by vets themselves.”

If there is insufficient time during a vaccination appointment to discuss the horse’s weight in full, the sticker provides a colour-specific QR code which the owner can use to access additional information via their smartphone in their own time.

Ms Grieve continued: “The first challenge is helping owners recognise when their horse is overweight. Once this has been established then we can make a plan to correct the problem as a team. The owner needs to be on board and committed in order to carry out the tough task of reducing the weight of their horse. We hope that owners will be ‘nudged’ by the sticker intervention to consider the information they have been offered and start to tackle the problem before it causes life-threatening disease,” she urged.

Vets can find out more by visiting - https://www.beva.org.uk/Resources-For-Vets-Practices/Clinical-Practice-Guidance/Obesity-in-horses

Horse owners who are concerned about their horses’ weight are advised to speak to their vet for further information.