'DIFFICULT conversations' about equine obesity are needing to be had between some horse owners and their vets.

According to equine veterinary body BEVA, obesity is now one of the biggest threats to horse welfare in the UK, and it is ramping up its efforts to help vets and owners recognise and address the problem, with help from a video on how best to tackle the topic.

“Equine obesity may not be a huge issue for those working with racehorses and elite sports horses, but for those of us working with almost all other members of the UK equine population it is an all too familiar encounter,” said BEVA president Lucy Grieve. “Approaching the conversation about a horse’s weight with an owner can be difficult; sometimes what we say is not what the other person hears but by making small changes in how we word things can have a big impact.”

BEVA has been tackling equine obesity for several years now. This year the association has teamed up with Tamzin Furtado, a social scientist at the University of Liverpool with a background in global health, and a specific interest on how human behaviour change can improve the management of obesity in horses, to provide advice and guidance on having difficult conversations about equine obesity.

In addition, last summer’s pilot scheme using a traffic light colour system of vaccination reminder stickers which vets can place on the front of passports at each vaccination appointment has been simplified for further trials. The updated scheme involves vets issuing a black or white sticker during a vaccination visit, relating to the horse or pony’s current weight. The QR coded sticker directs owners to a series of five short videos providing practical advice on ways to manage or reduce their horse’s weight by looking at hard feed, exercise, grazing, hay and rugging.

“Using a less direct method of communication such as this seems to make it more comfortable for owners to recognise and accept that their horse is overweight,” said Ms Grieve. “This should be the kickstart they need to embark on a supported path of rehabilitating their horse to a healthy body condition.

“Obesity is a ticking time bomb,” said Lucy, “and we all need to work together to avert the crisis. By initiating conversations in the right way, we can help owners recognise and maintain a healthy body condition for their beloved horses and ponies. In so doing we should be able to significantly reduce the many serious obesity-related health problems – surely this is the biggest motivator for all of us to engage with this project.”