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Title: Exploring the recognition and management of obesity in horses through qualitative research
Author: Furtado, T.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7970 5205
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2019
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Equine obesity is one of the biggest welfare challenges facing the UK's leisure horse industry, with up to 60% of horses obese or overweight, leading to a plethora of health problems such as equine metabolic syndrome, laminitis, arthritis, and soft tissue injuries. Veterinary research has examined how to effectively diet horses in a hospital setting, but has not explored the issues owners face in day-to-day equine management which lead to equine obesity, how owners conceptualise weight as a part of horse health, or how owners might effectively address excess equine weight. This study brought together data from diverse sources, including 16 discussion threads from open-access UK discussion fora, interviews with 28 leisure horse owners and 19 equine professionals, focus groups with 24 horse owners, and two years of observational field notes. These data were analysed using a grounded theory approach in order to determine the common themes and explore the challenges surrounding equine obesity. The study found that the changing role of the UK's horses toward being companion animals has led to an equine environment which is potently obesogenic. For example, many owners prioritise caring and nurturing behaviours over exercising their horses, and the loss of safe hacking spaces has led to owners reducing their horses' activity levels. In line with the leisurisation of the horse, a commercialist market has arisen to cater for it, with items which encourage the horse owner to care through consumption; for example buying rugs, feeds and accoutrements which humanise the horse. Further, the leisure horse industry has led to the diversification of working farms to livery yards, providing spaces where horse owners have little ability to alter their horse's management and grazing. In this environment, it is inevitable that horses will increase in weight if there is no intervention. As a result of these factors, owners had a complex relationship with their awareness of equine obesity, and often ignored or did not fully recognise their horses' weight status until the horse began to suffer from a comorbidity such as laminitis, leading to the owner re-assessing their care. Professionals considered obesity a serious welfare issue, and felt pressure to find ways of revealing excess weight to owners, but considered it a contentious topic. When weight management was discussed between owners or between owners and professionals, owners preferred approaches tailored to their own horse, yard set-up and time availability. The 40 weight management strategies identified in the study were categorised into four areas; reducing grazing, reducing supplementary feed, increasing exercise and increasing thermoregulation, in order to help owners to plan effective weight management whatever their situation. Using theory from behaviour change science, these strategies were collated into a guide and decision making tool to help owners create individualised plans for managing their horses weight. Recommendations for equine welfare groups and professionals were also developed to assist these stakeholders in managing equine weight at an individual, yard, or societal level.
Supervisor: Christley, Rob ; Pinchbeck, Gina ; McGowan, Cathy ; Perkins, Elizabeth ; Watkins, Francine Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral