Horse owners are urged to be on their guard as the incidence of arson is increasing in equestrian properties.

Claims for arson rose by 23% in 2014, according to figures released last month by rural insurers NFU Mutual.

The worst affected region was the north east, which accounted for 26% of the claims.

NFU warned that arson is a “growing problem” within the countryside.

“Any rise in fire claims is always a worry as these can be financially and emotionally devastating for those involved,” said Nicki Whittaker from NFU Mutual.

“Arson involving premises where animals are kept, such as farms and livery yards is particularly concerning and we are working hard to educate people about the importance of fire risk assessments and a well-rehearsed evacuation plan for horses.”

NFU figures suggest that bales of hay and straw are the main targets for arsonists.

“While arson is obviously worrying, it is important to remember that people are three times more likely to suffer a fire as a result of an electrical problem than someone deliberately setting fire to their premises, and fire safety should be a year-round concern,” added Ms Whittaker.

Last year NFU Mutual paid out more than £11m in claims for stable and barn fires. This included the death of 12 horses, the majority of which died due to smoke inhalation. The amount paid out is 17% greater than in 2013.

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A worrying trend

H&H has reported on seven stable fires in the past six months, five of which were treated as suspicious.
In April five horses were killed in a fire at a livery yard in Houghton-le-Spring, and in May two colts died in a barn blaze.

In June three stables were set alight in Rochdale, but no horses were hurt.

The next month a pony was killed in a suspected arson attack in Greater Manchester. Nine stables were destroyed, amounting to £80,000 worth of damage.

In December three horses died in a stable fire in East Sussex, which was not considered suspicious.

Earlier this year, Maggie Appleby contacted H&H, urging other owners to be more aware of fire safety and preparation after her horse was killed in the arson attack in Houghton-le-Spring.

“It was horrendous,” Mrs Appleby told H&H. “The barn was completely burnt out. The door was shut so the firefighters didn’t know they were in there.”

Mrs Appleby is now trying to raise awareness of fire safety. The fire brigade originally went to the wrong yard as they didn’t have the correct address, and she is urging people to ensure they have a sign with details including the ordinance survey reference number and postcode on the outside of their building.

“The horse world is very complacent. You always think it’s never going to happen to you, but it could,” she said.

Jim Green of Hampshire Fire and Rescue said there may be “more potential reasons” for a fire to start now than in the past.

“Generally there are more electrical appliances and devices on yards; arson in rural areas is rising; and farms are diversifying and renting out space to other businesses such as car mechanics who will have inherent fire risks,” he said.

Experts estimate that just four minutes will pass between a fire starting and it being fatal for horses and urge owners to have an evacuation plan.

Horse put down after arson attack

Event rider Emily Pope was forced to put down her promising young horse Coevers Gamble (Brindy) on 4 December, after an arson attack at her yard last month (11 November).

A “considerable amount of tack” was stolen, and police believe a lorry (pictured, right) was set on fire to cover the thieves’ tracks.

“We think they tried to hot-wire the lorry to steal it, and when they couldn’t they set fire to it,” Emily’s mother Sophie told H&H. “I looked out of the window at 4.30am and saw the lorry in flames and the stables on fire. It was terrifying.”

Emily Pope stable fire

Emily Pope stable fire

Brindy had been “in good spirits” but her condition deteriorated recently.

“She just wasn’t happy,” Emily told H&H. “It was the right decision.”

Sophie added: “The burns had gone down to the spine in places. It was incredibly sad, and she had so much potential. She was an amazing horse who could do almost everything — she was incredibly competitive.”

Hampshire police are investigating.

H&H 24 December 2015