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Study: Overweight horses favoured at shows?

by Jil Wiedemann
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According to a study, overweight ponies are rated better in competitions than leaner ones. And this despite the fact that overweight ponies have a higher health risk.

According to a study by Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD, professor of equine nutrition at the Department of Animal Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and colleagues, overweight horses are favoured in competitions. Although obesity is very dangerous for horses and can bring many diseases, judges score them better.

There is a positive correlation between higher body condition scores (BSC) and the score ponies received from judges who assessed conformation and appearance. This suggests that fat ponies are favoured over lean ones at trials. This could have implications for the health and welfare of the horses


The body condition and the cresty neck scores of 347 ponies were evaluated. The ponies were prepared for the in-hand phase at the 2021 United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Pony Finals. The mean BCS (on a 9-point scale) was 6.8, and the mean cresty neck score (on a 5-point scale) was 2.9, indicating most ponies were overweight.

“There were definitely some ponies that were scoring an 8 or an 8.25, and there were maybe 10 ponies that were a BCS of less than 6,” Pratt-Phillips said. An ideal BCS, she added, is generally around a 5,when the pony has enough fat coverage that you can’t necessarily see the ribs, but they’re easily felt.

Ideally, the cresty neck score should be less than 2, she added, though properly developed muscle isn’t an issue. “It’s actually been shown that fat within the crest of the neck is more metabolically active (than fat deposits in some other locations) and potentially a bit more dangerous in terms of promoting inflammatory conditions, such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS),” she said.

Obesity leads to disease

But EMS is not the only problem with overweight horses. Laminitis is also a major risk. In addition, overweight horses are also exercised and ridden; joints and limbs are more likely to suffer wear and tear due to the heavy weight. In old age, this could also lead to problems.

Pratt-Phillips is now appealing for better awareness of overweight horses. Overweight horses should not be supported. People should realise that there are health risks for fat horses just as there are for horses that are too thin. Both judges and pony owners should be aware of the weight of the animal to act accordingly.

Source: Study: Judges favour adipoity in athletic show ponies 

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