A 9.2 hand, 12-year-old spotted pony named Firefly suffered from overgrown feet and laminitis in England in April 2007. She couldn't walk properly, but her owner refused to have her cared for, nor would she sign the pony over to the World Horse Welfare. A court case ensued and the owner lost her right to own horses for two years.
Here's Firefly in September 2007, on her way to full recovery and adoption to a new home. The research project funded by WHW at the University of Liverpool suggests that it is difficult to assign an objective body condition score to ponies using the system designed for larger horses.
Researchers at the department of clinical science at Britain's University of Liverpool, with support from the World Horse Welfare charity, presented new research at the annual convention of the British Equine Veterinary Association(BEVA) last week.
The question: how accurate is conventional equine body condition scoring for weight loss management when the equine being evaluated is an overweight pony?
The study, entitled Managed Weight Loss in Obese Ponies: Evaluating Weight Change, Health and Welfare, involved five mature, overweight or obese ponies and aimed to restrict their feed intake (on a dry matter basis) to 1% of body weight of a chaff-based complete diet for 12 weeks.
During this time the ponies' weight change, health parameters and behavior were monitored. All ponies remained healthy throughout the whole trial and an appropriate and safe rate of weight loss was achieved.
Clare Barfoot BSc (Hons) RNutr, registered nutritionist and the research and development manager for SPILLERS® (British horse feed company) explained: “Body weight decreased at a steady rate. However, despite significant weight loss, the body condition scores of the ponies didn't change. This highlights the concern that body condition scoring may not be the most effective way to monitor early weight loss in ponies.”
Even in this well-managed study, the feeding activity of the dieting ponies was decreased by 74 percent compared to ad libitum intake, highlighting the need for a practical feeding system that is both effective at managing weight loss but is sensitive to behavioral needs.
The WALTHAM® Equine Studies group was closely involved with this study as it has been with other groundbreaking work on equine obesity, such as showing that an obese body condition score was associated with increased insulin resistance back in 2003, and developing the cresty neck scoring system.
In response to the study, the research group is in the process of developing a new condition scoring system designed specifically for ponies. “This will involve validating the relationship between actual measurements of body fatness and the external appearance of the pony,” said Alex Dugdale, lead researcher for the study at Liverpool University.
Note: information provided by Spillers was used in the preparation of this blog post.
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