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Out Of The Horse's Mouth

Out Of The Horse's Mouth

By Hayley Birch

Horses are couch potatoes. That’s the claim from equine experts at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who are concerned for horses’ health.

The warnings follow a report last year that showed that 51% of horses are obese – a proportion greater even than the number of little fatties in your average Mid-West kindergarten.

Now I can tell you’re picturing Black Beauty, shoes kicked off, hooves up, sprawled out on the sofa, munching popcorn out of a nosebag. Well that’s not quite what the scientists are getting at. But horses are much more like humans than you might imagine. Especially when it comes to food.

Surprise, surprise, given half a chance they eat too much, they pile on the pounds and, just as in humans, this can lead to all kinds of complications such as heart disease and diabetes.

But the similarity ends when you consider that your average gee-gee isn’t going to be cantering off down the organic market of a Wednesday afternoon. Horses don’t take responsibility for their diets.

According to scientists, we should be keeping closer tabs on what we’re feeding our steeds. Personally, I don’t own a horse, but as far as I’m concerned horse food consists of hay, hay and hay. That’s it. Simple. Perhaps the real horsey sorts amongst you can enlighten me – what else do people feed their horses? I can’t imagine even the horsiest of horse lovers frying up greasy breakfasts to take down to the stables in the morning.

Professor of veterinary medicine, Philip Johnson, says the problem has arisen partly due to the genetically modified grasses that some horses are fed. These are designed with food animals such as cows in mind, to encourage rapid weight increase.

The other obvious human failing reflected in the care of their animals a lack of exercise. "Horses need to be exercised daily in meaningful ways," said Johnson. Well I’m not quite sure what Prof Johnson is implying, but could “meaningful ways” say more about his relationship with his horses than perhaps he intended?

Anyhow, look after your animals like you would your children - that’s the message. TLC for nags is all about encouraging sensible eating and regular exercise. Sadly, no matter how much health experts – human or equine - bang on about clean living, the rise and rise of obesity continues unabated. It’s like flogging a dead horse…

Get more from Hayley or get some tips for keeping your pets happy and healthy:

- Lonely pets might like a Chatterbowl
- Mucky pets might need a portable shower
- Hungry pets might appreciate clean ears

Image: Jean Scheijen

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22 Aug 2009
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