This month we’re shining a light on our Director of Fundraising & Communications, Jess. Jess…
In 2019 The Horse Trust created and piloted the Healthiest Body Condition Awards (#theweightowin) in collaboration with The University of Liverpool to spread the word about the importance of healthy equine weight. Peoples’ perceptions of what a healthy weight is have become skewed towards the higher body condition scores and, consequentially, are causing serious health consequences for horses. We’re delighted to see many Shows onboarding with The Horse Trust’s Healthiest Body Condition Awards, and a much-needed change in perception underway.
People get very upset by seeing photos of underweight horses in the media, but in reality, far more horses are obese than are underweight. This is very worrying for vets who are finding that they have to treat these horses with serious health conditions like Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Laminitis.
The Horse Trust’s Healthiest Body Condition Awards mission is to change this from the top, one green and gold rosette at a time, across all equine sports and to all horse and pony owners – importantly the non-competing ones too.
Four years on, since our humble beginnings in the pilot year, many shows have come on board to the scheme. We have seen a promising amount of positive coverage in the equestrian and national press and a growing interest in supporting improvement in the health of horses.
Humble Beginnings at Hickstead
The Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead opened the door for the Healthy Body Condition Awards to really take root in Showing and leading the way in introducing them to the programme was Showing Director, David Ingle.
This has allowed the important message of healthy body condition to be cemented in the minds of producers, judges and show organisers. As a result, many more shows are stepping up to take part in The Horse Trust’s Healthy Equine Body Condition awards.
Over the course of four years, the data we have collected and analysed at Hickstead has revealed:
1) That average body condition scores at shows are going down compared to a few years ago, so things are changing for the better.
2) Horses professionally produced are often slimmer than amateur horses, and professionals are often winning our awards, suggesting they know what the judges are looking for – and that’s fitness.
For example, prolific winner, and showing professional, Robert Walker with Jill Day’s Greenhall Treasure Island won one of our 2023 awards at the Royal International, Hickstead in Sport Horse Breeding of Great Britain’s MW Hunter Championship. This shows that standards at the top level are changing which will hopefully have a beneficial effect on the showing environment as a whole.
3) Last, and important to note, we still have quite a few overweight horses across all the classes – particularly natives – so there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Celebrating the Shows that are tackling The Big Issue
Jan Rogers, Director of Policy and Research, observed from this year’s shows:
“The engagement from the showing community has seen a step change this year. Many shows and individuals have been supportive since the programme got underway in 2019 and we are now seeing a mini tsunami of support with far fewer people seeing it as a worry. The Showing Council has embraced the promotion of healthy weight in the interests of horse wellbeing and they have shown remarkable inspired leadership.
“We are now seeing a mini tsunami of support”
Our work together to engage all the showing bodies through our annual Forum, which we hold at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead, is helping everyone move along at the same pace and feel as though they are mutually supportive of each other. Some judges have been particularly passionate about this, and we’d like to recognise them for leading the way!”
We were delighted to welcome seven new pioneers to the movement this year, including Burwarton Show, Royal Windsor Horse Show, Royal Cornwall Show, Ashbourne Show, British Show Horse Association Show, Rampton Horse Show and Veteran Horse Society National Championships.
Soon joining the movement
Onboard for next year we’re excited to welcome Balmoral Show, Hambleton Show, New Forest Show and Northern Counties Pony Association.
Shining a light on long-standing healthy body condition supporters
Of course, not forgetting the fantastic Hickstead, Great Yorkshire Show, Penistone Show, APHS 2023 Championship Show and last but certainly not least, Royal Artillery Equestrian Centre Thorney Island (RAECTI), who importantly reach many ‘ordinary horse owners’ through this brilliant show.
It’s Not Over Yet
One of the main issues we still face is facilitating the support of Vets to carry out the body condition scoring. Currently, we’re asking for their goodwill and buy-in to the programme and practices aren’t always able to free up vets to devote the time to this initiative, although they want to! The Horse Trust is working hard with other equine professionals to make sure that we can get to as many shows as possible to support those owners who are working so hard to keep their horses a healthy weight.
Another issue is that we still see some instances of very overweight horses and some judges have still been heard recommending that competitors “feed their horses more” but this seems to be reducing and we are seeing owners reassured in their confidence that they are doing the right thing by managing their horses’ body condition and challenging back when they receive inappropriate advice like this.
Although there’s still a way to go, our hopes and spirits are high based on the trajectory the Awards are taking.
Overall, we’re incredibly pleased with the momentum built from this movement towards a much-needed social change. In the words of Jeanette Allen, CEO of The Horse Trust:
“No more research is needed as we know what damage excess weight does, but it doesn’t change peoples’ behaviour. The Horse Trust funded the research into management of equine weight and that’s where the Healthiest Body Condition Awards came from, and they are changing horses’ lives for the better.”
A heartfelt thank you to all of the Shows hearing our message and taking bold steps of action towards change, to Holdsworth PR for their support in spreading the message far and wide, and of course to horse owners all over for taking positive steps. You are supporting a change which will hopefully improve the lives of countless horses by tackling this big issue head on.
Your kind support enables us to continue to drive the development of our understanding into equine behaviour and mental wellbeing. The more we can do this, the more we can continue to provide the best standards of care for our herd and share this knowledge with the wider equine community. To find out how you can support us, head to the link below.