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Putting horse welfare first in Scotland

17 Apr 2014


Horse welfare in Scotland was the focus of a recent conference organised jointly by The British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare and Scottish Government.

Britain’s unprecedented equine welfare crisis has been regularly hitting the headlines over the last year but the focus has primarily been on England and Wales. The aim of the conference was to redress the balance, as well as providing CPD for local authority enforcers. High profile speakers included Roly Owers (Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare), Chief Superintendant Mike Flynn of the SSPCA and Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas.

One of the hottest topics discussed was the high cost of humane euthanasia and carcass disposal. The expense involved discourages some owners from doing the right thing at the right time and can result in elderly or injured horses being left to suffer in the hope they will die of natural causes. The lack of a horse abattoir in Scotland was highlighted as contributing to this problem – abattoirs offer the cheapest humane method of equine euthanasia but at present Scottish horses would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach one. A journey of this length is neither appropriate nor good welfare for a horse reaching the end of his life.

The role of rescue was also explored and some tough questions were posed – is it always best to rescue a horse or is euthanasia sometimes the kindest course of action? With thousands of British horses at immediate risk of needing help, the resources of charities are stretched to breaking point. Too often they have to pick up the pieces when amateur rescue goes wrong. A quick look on social media and internet sales sites provides perfect examples of questionable amateur rescue, with horses supposedly rescued being sold for token amounts and no care given as to where they will end up. Will these horses really be better off?

The afternoon saw a debate about proposals for the regulation of all commercial equine establishments in Scotland. At present, apart from voluntary schemes like British Horse Society Approval, only riding schools are subject to specific regulation meaning that livery yards, studs and dealers can operate essentially unmonitored.  Regulating commercial equine establishments would allow Scotland to once again lead the way in improving horse welfare in Britain and set a precedent that the other nations must surely follow.

Other issues covered included the need for a new central equine database to assist in the identification of horses and owners as well as monitoring horse locations for the purposes of disease control and the shadier side of horse dealing. Delegates were treated to a demonstration of horse microchipping and an eye-opening presentation of the undercover work of World Horse Welfare investigators on the transport of horses.

Professor Derek Knottenbelt, Chair of both the conference and BHS Scotland, said “This was an extraordinary gathering of stakeholders. We are so fortunate in Scotland that we can all sit together in one room and discuss these issues – but it is what happens now that matters.

“No one without knowledge should own a horse. The bona fide horse traders and equine establishments need to join voluntary quality assurance schemes so that the dark side of the industry is isolated and rendered ineffectual. The work starts now.”

The conference took place at World Horse Welfare’s Belwade Farm Centre and was supported by the SSPCA, ABRS and TRSS.

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