Prevalence and Risk Factors for Owner- Reported Obesity in Horses and Ponies in Great Britain





To estimate prevalence of owner-reported obesity in British veterinary-registered horses and ponies, and identify risk factors associated with obesity.


Thirty veterinary practices randomly selected horse owners to complete an ethically approved, self-administered postal questionnaire. Owners estimated body condition score using a modified Carroll and Huntington method (1–6) and animals were classified as obese if they were scored as 5 (fat) or 6 (very fat). Factors associated with obesity were assessed using logistic regression analysis.


Owner-reported prevalence of obesity was 31.2% (n = 247/792, 95% CI 27.9–34.2). A greater proportion of obese animals (n = 47/225, 20.9%) had a history of laminitis compared with normal/underweight animals (n = 69/511, 13.5%, P = 0.01). Univariable logistic regression analysis identified several management and horse-level risk factors. Data from 785 horses were included in the final multivariable logistic regression model, and factors associated with an increased risk of obesity were breed (P<0.001), ease of maintaining weight (P<0.001) and primary use (P = 0.002). Compared with Thoroughbreds, draught-type (odds ratio [OR] 7.3; 95% CI 3.5–17.1), cob-type (OR 5.8; 95% CI 2.6–12.8), native (OR 3.1; 95% CI 1.7–5.7), and Welsh breeds (OR 3.5; 95% CI 1.9–6.2) were more likely to be obese. Animals described as ‘good doers’ were more likely to be obese compared those described as readily maintaining normal weight (OR 3.7; 95% CI 2.6–5.3). Compared with animals whose primary use was competition, animals predominantly used for pleasure riding were more likely to be obese (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.4–4.3), and risk increased in non-ridden horses compared with competition horses (OR 2.9; 95% CI 1.5–5.5, P = 0.002).

Conclusion and practical significance

Identification of breed and other horse characteristics as risk factors for obesity will enable optimal targeting of owner education regarding preventive management to reduce the risk of obesity among the British horse population.

Ethical animal research

Owner informed consent was obtained for the questionnaire. Sources of funding: This project was funded by World Horse Welfare. Competing interests: None.