The hidden F word

by Linda Chamberlain

Jamie Oliver is the champion chef who is fighting against childhood obesity. He is the man who has woken up MPs, schools and parents with his campaign to reduce sugar in our diets fearing that large swathes of the population will suffer from diabetes unless something is done. Twenty eight per cent of schoolchildren in the UK are reportedly obese or overweight.

We urgently need an equestrian ‘chef’ to do the same.

Because the statistics for horses are even worse. Half of the country’s horses are said to be overweight and according to a report by the Royal Veterinary College seven out of ten ponies are born obese. They are, to use the F word, FAT!

How? Why? And what can we do to stop this?

Horses and our children have two things increasingly in common. Their diets are in a mess and they don’t move enough. Diet and exercise.

Diet first…sugar seems to be the major common denominator. Our children are eating twice as much sugar as recommended. A five year old should have no more than five cubes of sugar a day but there is more than that in a can of cola.

I went online and took a look at some websites of the main horse feed manufacturers. I was particularly interested in feeds said to suit laminitics who the world must surely know should be kept away from grass and sugary feeds. Laminitis is a killer and you shouldn’t mess with it so why are so many of these bagged feeds made ‘tasty’ with molasses? Molasses = sugar but with a longer name. Why are so many manufacturers selling Nutritionally Improved Straw, oatfeed and wheatfeed (the outer husk and not very nutritious) with added sugars and then advising customers to give these to horses that are already ill and in pain?

To be fair, they had alternative feeds that were free of molasses. And they had advice for owners dealing with laminitis, a disease that one described as the second biggest horse killer. Soak hay to remove sugars – good idea. Stable to keep off grass – OK, we can probably come up with something better than that and we can return to it in a minute.

Interestingly, I saw no reference to the RVC’s latest research on obesity but there was mention on one site of dated figures showing that 20 per cent of horses were overweight.

Like sugary foods for children these bags of feed appear very reasonably priced. Competitive. It’s very tempting to save money and watch your horse lick the bowl clean.

But if your horse needs any feed at all, and many don’t need more than hay, why not choose something without added harm? Check out these small manufacturers – Thunderbrook Equestrian, Agrobs and Simple Systems, more expensive but my horses have done well on their feeds and because they are high quality, you feed less. I’m wondering if one of them has an equestrian chef to become the Jamie Oliver of the horse world.

Now then, exercise. Children don’t do enough of it. Many are taken in a car to school and they go out to play less and less so they are not burning up the sugary foods they have eaten.

There is a similar story in the equestrian world thanks to stabling. So many horses are kept in 24/7 especially in winter. There’s not much movement to be had in a stable but lucky horses get enough food to keep them occupied. When they do get turned out in summer there are lush fields to welcome them. I wonder if, like children, horses are eating twice their recommended sugar intake as a result. Or even more. Grass, particularly rye grass, is high in sugar. Horses do better on rough pasture but most farms have been developed to fatten livestock rather than keep equestrian athletes in top condition.

My next blog will be taking an in-depth look at some new-style livery yards that are providing a brilliant alternative to the traditional stable-and-field approach. Track liveries they are called and I will be giving examples from around the world. Places that are helping to fight against the obesity trend. If you know of one, or run one, please get in touch.


My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. 

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend!