Sarah started her PhD in 2010, graduating in 2015. Her project explored the link between social foraging behaviour and body condition in horses and ponies, and aimed to formulate a better understanding of predictors of obesity risk in outdoor animals living in herds.
Obesity is an important risk factor for many health and welfare problems in horses and ponies, including diabetes and laminitis. The prevalence of obesity is rapidly increasing in the domestic equine population which means that we urgently need a thorough understanding of the factors affecting this important non-communicable disease.
The project was composed of several elements:
- epidemiological risk factor and prevalence studies are being conducted to build up an understanding of important management related risk factors;
- simulation modelling techniques aim to explore how predictions from social foraging models can be applied to the practical management of UK domestic horses and ponies;
- fieldwork studies of behaviour, aiming to understand the role of dominance behaviour in access to resources and also to test and refine the simulation models.
This interdisciplinary approach allows for a unique understanding of the factors affecting equine obesity in the UK and has many practical applications, including better nutritional advice to UK horse owners through the outreach of collaborators at the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition. This work has important implications for equine health and welfare globally.
Sarah was funded through a BBSRC industrial CASE PhD studentship in association with the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition, jointly supervised by Dr Sean Rands, Professor Christine Nicol (Bristol Vet School) and Professor Pat Harris (WALTHAM®). Sarah has a keen interest in all aspects of animal behaviour, veterinary epidemiology and the practical applications of science to animal welfare and public policy. She is a keen horse rider, swimmer, photographer and runner.
Publications from Sarah’s PhD
Giles SL, Rands SA, Nicol CJ & Harris PA (2014). Obesity prevalence and associated risk factors in outdoor living domestic horses and ponies. PeerJ 2: e299 | full text | pdf | blog entry about this paper
Giles SL, Nicol CJ, Rands SA & Harris PA (2015). Assessing the seasonal prevalence and risk factors for nuchal crest adiposity in domestic horses and ponies using the Cresty Neck Score. BMC Veterinary Research 11: 13 | full text | pdf | blog entry about this paper
Giles SL, Nicol CJ, Harris PA & Rands SA (2015). Dominance rank is associated with body condition in outdoor-living domestic horses (Equus caballus). Applied Animal Behaviour Science 166: 71-79 | full text | pdf