Equine obesity is a major welfare concern in the UK, and the problem is thought to be increasing. Leisure horses are known to be most at risk of obesity, yet despite plenty of conjecture, the reasons for this are unknown. This study, therefore, aimed to establish the social and environmental factors which owners considered might contribute to levels of obesity in leisure horses in order to address the problem. This project used qualitative research methods to bring together data from interviews with 28 horse owners and 19 equine professionals, two focus groups, two years of field notes, and 17 threads from equine discussion fora. The data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. This study determined that the environment around the UK’s leisure horses is “obesogenic”; that is, the environment is structured in numerous ways that make obesity a likely outcome. This is a result of multiple factors related to the changing relationships between humans and their horses in recent decades, which has led to horses being kept for their companionship rather than for their physical abilities as work or competition animals. In addition, commercial environments have been developed to cater for these leisure horses, including livery yards which often have inflexible rules and rich grasses, a heavily moralized feed and equine care industry, and lack of options for “safe” exercise. In these obesogenic environments, horse owners often find it difficult to make changes to their horses’ condition.
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