The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has launched a pilot project to tackle equine obesity.

The scheme uses a traffic light colour system of vaccination reminder stickers which vets can place on the front of passports at each vaccination appointment.

Pending the success of the six-month pilot, the initiative will be rolled out across the UK in the summer.

Obesity is one of the biggest problems facing equine welfare in the UK but despite the best efforts of numerous equine welfare charities to address the issue, a significant proportion of owners are either not recognising obesity in their horses, or not being motivated to subsequently take action.

BEVA decided to confront the problem in a different way, using knowledge gained from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – a government think tank specialising in behavioural economics and psychology.

Lucy Grieve, president elect of BEVA and part of the association’s obesity campaign working group, explains: “Determined to look at new ways to positively engage with horse owners, we harnessed the BIT’s experience of what methods work most effectively and came up with a simple, practical scheme revolving around vaccination visits, which could be affected by vets themselves.”

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The idea is to utilise the routine annual or six-monthly vaccination visit as a time to assess a horse’s body condition. A traffic light colour system of vaccination reminder stickers can be stuck to the front of the passport with the objective of genuinely reminding the owner of when the next vaccination is due, but with additional information too. A green sticker indicates a ‘healthy’ body condition. Amber means the horse is carrying too much fat tissue and needs moderate changes to diet, exercise, management, rugging and clipping regimes. Red implies that the horse is carrying excessive amounts of fat tissue which are placing the horse in morbid danger.

The aim of the colour coded stickers is to instigate a conversation about the horse’s weight as part of the scheme, sparking discussion about the potential impact on the horse’s health and how any issues can be addressed.

“The first challenge is helping owners recognise when their horse is overweight. Once this has been established then we can make a plan to correct the problem as a team.” says Lucy. “The owner needs to be on board and committed in order to carry out the tough task of reducing the weight of their horse. We hope that owners will be ‘nudged’ by the sticker intervention to consider the information they have been offered and start to tackle the problem before it causes life-threatening disease.”