When I put Fell Pony weanling Willowtrail Spring Maiden on the truck bound for her new home, I had to fill out a paper assessing her health. I marked her body condition as average, but I chuckled when I did it. It all depends on what you compare her to and who’s doing the comparing. For a pony of her age, she is average, but compared to the ponies I just brought home from pasture, she’d be considered thin. You can hardly feel the ribs of those pasture ponies!
Two vets this year have emphasized to me that all equines, ponies as well as horses, naturally have seasonal variations in their weight. As adults, they naturally are heavier going into fall and thinner going into spring. When I bought my first Fell mare, the vet who did the pre-purchase exam was alarmed at how overweight she was. It was February, so the extra 200 pounds she was carrying didn’t come close to being consistent with seasonal cycles. David Murray, in his research on Fell Ponies, found that a 30% variation in weight was considered typical. (1) Since I bought that first mare, I have seen her weight vary that much seasonally without adverse health effects.
An article in the June 2011 issue of Equus magazine suggests that many of us don’t know what normal condition is or should be. A study done by the University of Nottingham in England estimates that 54% of pleasure horses in England are obese. The study further found that owners participating in the survey typically didn’t know they had an obesity problem. (2) From my experience with British Native Ponies and their ability to gain and lose large amounts of weight, I can easily see how owners would be confused about what normal ‘furnish’ should be.
Willowtrail Wild Rose, an open mare, seems to be my easiest keeper. Not only were her ribs hard to find beneath her flesh when I brought her home from pasture, she was also starting to get a feature I’ve seen on some Fell mares in England. They get so much flesh on that they have valleys running down their backs. Rose reminded me of those well-furnished mares.
All of these thoughts ran through my head as I checked the “Average” box on Madie’s transport papers. She was average for a pony in my herd at her age and in her situation. Between the natural weight fluctuations of Fell Ponies and the seasonal variations that are natural and the different perceptions that people have about equine weight, I could easily imagine someone else pausing as I did when asked to check a box about fall Fell furnish.
You might also be interested in my article “Furnish of a Fell Mare.”
1) Murray, David Anthony. The Fell Pony: grazing characteristics and breed profile – a preliminary assessment. www.matilda.mcmail.com .
2) Barakat, Christine, and Mick McCluskey. “Widespread obesity found in UK horses,” Equus, Issue 405, June 2011, p. 15-16.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011