Characterization of the Prevalence and Management of Over-Conditioned Ponies and Horses in Maryland

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It has been estimated in the United States and abroad that 20%–51% of the equine population suffers from over-conditioning or obesity. The objective of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of over-conditioning in the equine population in Maryland, to characterize weight control measures used, and to ascertain how control measures impact the operation. Over-conditioning was defined as a body condition score of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. All licensed horse operators in Maryland were invited to participate in an online survey. A total of 93 farm operators completed the survey with 238 ponies and 1,290 horses represented. Nearly, all operators (96%) indicated that they managed at least one obese pony or horse and that 41% of their ponies (n = 97) and 40% of their horses (n = 512) were over-conditioned. Over-conditioned ponies had a higher incidence of laminitis and were more heavily managed. Dry lots were the most common management practice used for ponies even though they were reported to be more time consuming and required more maintenance than pasturing horses. Participants were most satisfied with using exercise for weight control followed by dry lots and least satisfied with using grazing muzzles and administering medication. Operators spent an average of $434.18 ± $15.19 more each year to manage their over-conditioned equids. In conclusion, a significant portion of Maryland's horses and ponies is over-conditioned with laminitis occurring more frequently in over-conditioned ponies. Additional or alternative measures to prevent over-conditioning are needed to reduce labor and maintenance costs as well as improve welfare practices.

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