The British Horse Society (BHS) and the University of Bristol are asking members of the public not to feed any horses they may encounter whilst out and about.
More than three quarters of horse owners surveyed found that their horses were fed without their permission, and 83% of those responsible were families, preliminary research led by the University of Bristol has found.
With more people taking to the countryside during the third COVID-19 lockdown, the BHS has been made aware of instances where horses have been seriously injured, made extremely ill or in some cases having died due to the public feeding the horse or through actions such as leaving gates open.
The BHS launched their #BeHorseAware campaign in April 2020 to raise public awareness of the suffering that horses and owners can go through as a result of inappropriate feeding.
Preliminary results from the Bristol survey, completed by 1,017 people in 2020, revealed high numbers of owners had experienced their horses being fed without their permission, with over half finding this had been occurring more frequently since the first COVID-19 lockdown.
The survey also found that nearly a third of horses became unwell as a result, with half of these needing veterinary treatment. Almost a third of those that required treatment did not make a full recovery and shockingly 16 per cent died or were euthanised.
The BHS is offering the following simple advice to those enjoying the countryside:
- Do not feed horses as any type of food can cause them to become extremely unwell or even kill them.
- Leave gates and property as you find them.
- Keep your dog on a lead as they may startle horses, which can cause injury.
- If you see a horse in distress, alert the nearest farm/yard or check for a sign with owner’s detail on.
The BHS has produced free signs for horse owners to place around their fields warning the public not to feed their horses. These are available for download at bhs.org.uk/behorseaware.
Gemma Stanford, Director of Welfare at The British Horse Society, said: “The BHS is urging members of the public to take notice of our #BeHorseAware campaign and not feed horses in fields as this can cause serious, potentially life-threatening illness. We believe many people act with no malicious intent and at this time of year members of the public think that they are helping a hungry horse. However, they are unaware of the timings at which owners feed their horses and the risks that certain foods or grass cuttings can pose. If members of the public feel that a horse is being mistreated or underfed, we would ask them to contact the BHS welfare helpline for advice.
“We also encourage horse owners to download free signs the BHS has produced warning the public not to feed their horse. The greater the awareness of the issue, the more likely people are to change their behaviour in the future.”
Dr Jo Hockenhull, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol Vet School, said: “It is important to recognise that in many of the cases reported in our survey, horses and ponies are being fed household vegetables and items that you would think are safe like grass, apples and carrots. Even if you think it is harmless, the horses might have underlying health issues or allergies. Our research shows that the consequences of feeding horses anything without permission can be very serious or even fatal.”
Amelia Cameron, postgraduate student at Bristol Vet School at the time she conducted the research, added: “Following our research findings, we are supporting the BHS’s #BeHorseAware message and asking the public not to feed horses and ponies anything at all. It is not worth risking the animal’s life just to feed or stroke them, however good your intentions may be.”