Half of Britain's horses are obese as owners threaten to 'kill them with kindness'

Almost half of all the horses in Britain are obese because owners are overfeeding them, experts warn.

Britons are killing the horses with kindness, despite being a nation of animal lovers, say researchers.

They are unable to recognise when their pets are overweight and are unaware of the health implications associated with allowing them to gorge.

According to the horse charity, World Horse Welfare, between 35 and 45 per cent of the UK's estimated 1.35million horses are obese.

Hefty: Dale the Shetland pony

Hefty: Dale the Shetland pony, pictured in 2008, was grossly overweight after being overfed by owners Keith and Lynn Hall

In trim: Dale earlier this year after being put on a diet and exercise plan. he has since been removed from his owners

In trim: Dale earlier this year after being put on a diet and exercise plan. He now lives at the World Horse Welfare's Penny Farm in Blackpool

Roly Owers, chief executive of WHW, said: 'Despite widespread media coverage of both human and pet obesity, we appear as a nation to be blind to this issue.

'Many people are unable to appreciate what an overweight horse looks like and the grave risks they face.

'We are literally killing our horses with kindness. Overfeeding a horse can lead to health issues, often causing excruciating pain.

'Overweight horses can also suffer from laminitis [a painful foot condition], heart and lung problems and even a diabetes-like condition, which can be as destructive as it is for humans.'

WHW found that obesity in horses is difficult to spot because most owners do not have the equipment to weigh their animals and the visual signs are often not immediately obvious.

Owners are urged to follow a 'body fat guide' issued by the charity which tells them to feel their horses for excess fat.

The guide outlines three key areas where body fat can be detected by touch  -  the head, neck and shoulders; the stomach and back; and the rear end.

A healthy horse should have a firm neck, defined shoulders blades and its ribs should be slightly covered by a layer of fat but easily felt.

The animal should have no gutter along its back and the pelvis should also be felt by touch, with a small covering of fat.

Hannah Colbourn, a spokesman for WHW, said: 'By keeping checks you can notice when your horse starts to change shape and do something about it. We recommend people to check their horses every four to six weeks.'

In October a couple from Blackpool became the first people in Britain to be banned from keeping horses for letting one become grossly overweight.

Keith and Lynn Hall, from Cleveleys, admitted at Blackpool magistrates court causing unnecessary suffering to a 12-year-old stallion, named Dale.

The Shetland was 40stone - 10stone overweight - and had to be taken from their care

He was put on a diet and exercise plan at WHW's Penny Farm in Blackpool and now only eats grass and soaked hay  -  which his keepers describe as the horse equivalent of a low-calorie snack.

Mr and Mrs Hall, aged 60 and 56, were banned from keeping horses for five years. They claimed he had become obese after being fed by the general public.

WHW said at the time: 'This pony had been left to eat all day and night and wasn't given regular exercise. He will always be at risk from weight gain and laminitis.'

Mr Owers added: 'This prosecution is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

'We hope cases such as this will serve to highlight an escalating problem in our horse population, which, if left unchecked, will have serious consequences.'

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