Portly North East horses put on a diet after gorging on overgrown pastures

Bumper grass growth fattens livestock in the North East this summer - but it's not good news for horse owners

Overweight pony
Overweight pony

Horses have been put on a diet after gorging on overgrown pastures caused by the hot wet summer.

Britain’s wet winter, warm spring and muggy early summer has led to some of the greenest countryside seen in the North East for years, bringing a feast to grazing animals.

But it’s not all good news.

Horse owners in particular are struggling to keep their animals in good shape, as they put on weight thanks to the plentiful food on offer.

The results can in some cases be fatal.

Equine veterinary surgeon Liz Mitchell, of Hexham’s Scott Mitchell & Associates, said cases of overweight horses were on the up this year.

She explained: “A large proportion of our equine population are overweight anyway, but this increase in grazing has certainly compounded that problem.

“The effects of being overweight is manyfold - it makes horses more susceptible to the hormonal condition Equine Metabolic Syndrome and then in turn more susceptible to Laminitis, which can be fatal.

“Cases are usually seen in the spring but we are seeing more and more into the summer this year, which is unusual.”

Liz and her colleagues have been busy providing advice on weight management programmes as a result.

She added: “We say that owners should easily be able to feel their horse’s ribs and if they can’t, it needs to lose weight.

“We would suggest they restrict the area and time they graze, and reduce additional food being given. It is about gradual weight-loss and this can be monitored with weight tapes round the girth or on a weigh bridge.”

The Pegasus Centre, based in Tranwell near Morpeth, is the home of a Riding for the Disabled Association group and also offers riding, showjumping, dressage and horse care for all.

A spokeswoman said: “Like other stables, we have seen our horses put on quite a bit of weight due to all the grass so we have had to keep an eye on them, particularly when it comes to laminitis.

“We have been fortunate in that we have quite a lot of land and have been able to move them around and put hay on some areas so they eat that rather than the grass.

“We tend to get quite a lot of grass in this area anyway so we get used to coping, but have definitely noticed more weeds this year.”

However, for farmers like Bruce Campbell, of Thrunton Farm near Whittingham, the flourishing greenery has been a blessing for his cattle, sheep and arable ventures.

The 26-year-old said: “There is no doubt the animals are in better condition thanks to the huge amounts of grass in the fields.

“To sell them they have to have good muscle cover and be a good weight - so far we have been able to sell them more quickly than in previous years.

“The crop yields so far have also been very good. In particular, the straw which last year was in short supply and was very expensive as a result, this year has fallen in price.

“We have ended up with a lot of silage and hay which will feed our stock through the winter.”

But he added: “Recent rainfall and winds have prevented us from completing the harvest yet, but the crops as they stand look well.”


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