A growing problem with tethered and abandoned horses faced by Cleveland Police, led, earlier this year, to the formation of the Cleveland Joint Equine Group by PC Mike Pilbeam.
The group made up of Police, local councillors, the Mayor, Representatives from local Housing Associations, Council Animal Health Officers, the RSPCA and The British Horse Society have collaborated to seek a number of solutions to a growing problem.
An initial day set up in early April to Passport and Microchip animals as an aid to identification revealed a total of 26 entire horses out of 31 presented.
RSPCA Inspector Ian Smith said: "It was an astonishing discovery – young lads from the housing estates have bought horses from the local travellers – often as foals. A few years down the line and these foals are now stallions and are causing havoc as they are often mis-handled and breaking tethers to run loose on the estates."
The problem has partly stemmed from social issues in the Grangetown and Southbank area near Middlesbrough where unemployment is high and horses have filled a void in the lives of mainly young men, often unable to find work.
Regional Development Officer for the BHS in the North, Wendy Suddes, said: "We decided that with the breeding season upon us and warm weather perhaps just around the corner, we should act promptly to make a start dealing with this bizarre situation."
A team of vets was quickly assembled led by Lesley Barwise-Munro from the Alnorthumbria practice in Northumberland. Liam Gamble from Oaklands Vet Centre at Yarm, Cleveland along with Ben Sturgeon and Kerrie Wynstanley from the Castle Veterinary Practice in Durham, all agreed to take on the challenge.
"I think the vets thought I’d gone slightly mad at first," said Wendy. "Thankfully they are all supportive of welfare - we were lucky, too, to have an outstanding team of volunteers."
Marquees and pens were erected amidst foul weather conditions, in order to create a unique field hospital offering cut price castration. The day proved to be a resounding success with 26 horses gelded including three rigs which were taken to the Oaklands practice for surgery. An emergency line and a follow up visit ensured all horses recovered well.
The British Horse Society launched their ‘Think before you breed’ campaign in 2011 and this event highlighted the need for all horse owners to act responsibly. 'The majority of owners here have bought horses despite little or no knowledge and limited funds. The welfare of the horses is a priority and the Joint Equine Group members are very proactive and keen to find acceptable long term solutions to a thankfully rather unique situation' said Wendy.
'Excessive numbers of often poor quality, low value horses have flooded the market and prices have plummeted. In the past, these animals would have gone to slaughter. Now, without a passport issued in their year of birth, they must be signed out of the food chain by the PIO – the welfare implications are enormous. It’s going to be a rough ride for a few years yet and welfare organisations like ourselves, are going to have to face tough decisions to prevent unnecessary suffering' she concluded.
The day featured on the ITV’s regional news and briefly on the BBC’s Countryfile programme. Further days are planned for the autumn.