As the celebrations begin for the Chinese Year of the Horse, by a cruel irony, Britain’s horses and ponies are likely to be facing the worst twelve months in living memory.
This warning comes from The British Horse Society, one of Britain’s leading horse charities. With more equine welfare officers than any other UK organisation, the Society has helped in excess of 8,000 horses in the last year but know many more to be at risk. Horses drowning in flooded fields, starving to death, riddled with worms and lice, poor or non-existent hoof care or dumped to fend for themselves may sound like something from a hundred years ago in the fields of the Somme, but sadly it is Britain in 2014.
Horses like Peggy, an emaciated black mare who was found wandering around a housing estate in Gilesgate, Durham, are tragically all too common. Peggy’s thick winter coat did little to mask how thin she was. Her hind legs were covered in faeces as a result of her dreadful diarrhoea and she was diagnosed with a particularly nasty clostridial infection and severe red worm infestation. There are countless horses like Peggy and they need our help.
“The horse has long been a loyal servant to mankind and is an integral part of our heritage,” says Lee Hackett, Director of Equine Policy at The British Horse Society. “We owe him so much yet, now when he needs us, we are spectacularly failing him.”
Mr Hackett cites years of unchecked and indiscriminate breeding and the recession as among the causes of this horrific situation. “The UK is saturated with thousands of horses with little or no value and a shortage of responsible and knowledgeable owners willing to care for them,” he explains. “Together with other charities we have been doing our best to resolve the situation, but sanctuaries are now beyond full and we are facing crisis point.”
There is a glimmer of hope as the Control of Horses Wales Bill received Royal Assent this week in a bid to tackle fly grazing (illegally grazing horses on private land). The new Act has received unanimous support from the welfare sector but experts fear it will result in the problem moving over the border into England.
“We have to congratulate the Welsh Government for taking such a positive stance and listening to the welfare charities,” says Mr Hackett. “However, Westminster must take notice now. Failing to act is going to lead to more horses suffering in England and that is unacceptable. We need our politicians to be proactive, not complacent. Britain is supposed to be a nation of animal lovers.
“We are entering the Chinese Year of the Horse. Let’s make it the year when we all stand together and really make a difference to British horses.”
Thousands of horses are suffering across Britain. Action is needed now!
What the BHS is doing to help:
• We have Britain’s largest network of specialist horse welfare officers.
• We have reacted to more welfare concerns in the last 12 months than ever before.
• We are proactive in improving welfare, including offering castration clinics directly reducing the number of poor quality animals bred each year.
• We continue to educate thousands of people each year on how to provide the best care for their horses.
• Representing the interests of the horse and rider to local and national Government.
What the public can do to help:
• Don’t make things worse – don’t ‘rescue’ a horse or pony unless you have the knowledge and resources to care for them.
• If you are able to offer a home to a rescue horse or pony, do so through a charity. The National Equine Welfare Council will be able to help.
• Don’t bid for horses at sales you feel sorry for. It’s hard but this just encourages cruelty. It’s cheap to neglect a horse yet these animals often raise more (through sympathy) than those that have been properly cared for.
• Horse owners must face up to responsibilities and, if necessary, consider euthanasia rather than passing on the care of old or injured horses to someone else.
• Don’t add to the problem – the indiscriminate breeding of poor quality horses and ponies has to stop. No more excuses. No more pretending that breeding just one more won’t really affect the problem. It will.