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They own fat horses, don't they?

January 19, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times
  • Horses, like humans, may be facing the battle of the bulge, a study finds.
Horses, like humans, may be facing the battle of the bulge, a study finds. (Heather Ainsworth / Associated…)

Many overweight people are delusional about their weight, studies have found, often underestimating their body size. Apparently that misconception may also carry over to their horses.

In a pilot study published recently in the journal Veterinary Record, researchers asked 160 nonprofessional horse owners in England to score the body condition of their equines using a scale ranging from 1 (ribs are protruding prominently) to 9 (extremely fat; noticeable bulging fat). About 21% of the horses were rated by their owners as overweight. However, a previous study on pleasure riding horses in Scotland found that 45% of them were obese, evidence of a wide discrepancy.

Among the study participants 15 were randomly chosen to have their horses' body condition assessed by a researcher who didn't know how the owner had scored his or her horse.

While the owners' average score of their horses was 3.1, the researchers gave the same horses an average score of 3.8. Eight owners gave their horses at least one grade lower than did the researchers.

The researchers cut the owners some slack on their assessments, saying that owner bias or lack of experience with the scoring system may be to blame. Still, the owners may need to take their own blinders off when it comes to having a chubby steed.

If the data from the smaller pool of participants was extrapolated to the larger pool, researchers estimate that about 54% of the horses would be overweight, a number closer to the study on Scottish horses.

Whoa, there -- that's approaching overweight and obesity rates for humans in the U.S. (which is about 65%). It seems the horses in the study also may be low on exercise: Almost half exercised for up to five hours a week. Maybe someone needs to design a horse-friendly treadmill. With a television. That shows reruns of "Mr. Ed."

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