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Winter of discontent for horses

16 Oct 2012


The British Horse Society, along with other major welfare charities, has called for government and public help in a landmark report that warns of an impending crisis in England and Wales which could leave the welfare of 6,000* horses at risk.

The report, ‘On the Verge:  the approaching Equine Crisis in England and Wales’, also predicts that another harsh winter will leave animal charities physically unable to cope and asks what will happen to the increasing numbers of horses being abandoned or suffering from welfare concerns.
The charities are asking the public to rehome more horses; for horse owners to take responsibility for their animals and not pass the problem onto local authorities, charities and landowners; and for the Government and other agencies to meet us halfway and help rein in this problem before another winter of misery for hundreds of horses and ponies.

Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare said:  “The organisations are already at breaking point with a severe shortage of available places and we are aware of an additional 6,000 horses which could be at risk over the winter. 

“These are all groups of horses that are on the edge of becoming welfare concerns, either because their owners are struggling to look after them or because they are not getting the care they need and ownership is unclear.  We could not cope if even a fraction of this number needed to be rescued.

“We are urging members of the public who can offer a horse a home to please do so now.”

Nicolas de Brauwere, Head of Welfare at Redwings Horse Sanctuary and Chairman of the National Equine Welfare Council, said: "It is an extremely serious state of affairs. In February this year, for example, we had a situation where a group of more than 60 horses and ponies that had been left to fend for themselves in Wales were facing euthanasia by the local authority which had found itself in an impossible situation through the irresponsible actions of a callous owner.  On that occasion several charities stepped up at the last moment and offered them a home, but we had to stretch ourselves and our teams to the limit to do so. 

“Another case like that may be the final straw, which is why we urgently need the help and support of both the public and the government as this winter approaches.  Absolutely no one wants to see horses put to sleep but local authorities may be faced with some very difficult decisions if the situation does not improve.”

Horses are still being bred on a large scale and continue to be imported from Ireland and the continent, despite there being no market for them.  This has led to the market becoming saturated, with animals being sold at some markets for as little as £5.

Economic climate
Horses can cost up to £100 per week to look after and in the current financial climate, people try to cut back on vet costs, hoof care and feed.  This inevitably leads to welfare problems.

Both factors have led to a visible increase in the problem of fly grazing – illegal grazing of horses on public and private land.  Fly grazing is a problem for farmers, landowners and local authorities, and increasingly it is leading to welfare concerns, as too often these owners do not provide basic care for their animals.

What the Government and public can do:

  • The Government should introduce criminal legislation targeting fly grazing – punishing offenders with fines and seizure of horses
  • Introduce legislation or mechanisms to better link horses to owners to tackle irresponsible ownership
  • Increased intelligence-led enforcement of horse imports and exports
  • Review the Tripartite agreement** that allows the import and export of vulnerable horses and ponies into and out of Britain from Ireland and France
  • Encourage responsible breeding through guidance and education
  • More assistance for local authorities including provision of places to keep horses on a temporary basis
  • Improve enforcement and cooperation between enforcement agencies and charities
  • The horse owning public can play an important part in rehoming horses and ponies, and keeping on top of their own situations
  • If horse owners need help, please contact the charities for advice before their situation escalates into a welfare problem.

Members of the public can also write to their MP and ask them to lobby the Secretary of State Owen Paterson about the national horse crisis and ask him to support tougher laws to encourage responsible ownership and improve enforcement.

Can you give a horse a home?
The National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) is a membership organisation for over sixty horse charities and welfare organisations and details of how to rehome a horse from any of its members can be found at

* World Horse Welfare estimates that there could be 6,540 horses at risk this winter.  Regional breakdowns of the 6,000 horses are available on request from World Horse Welfare.

**The agreement between France, Ireland and the UK which allows the free movement of horses between these countries without the need for health certification (with the exception of those intended for slaughter).

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