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Equine-related crime is at its highest level for the past decade.

That’s according to rural insurer NFU Mutual, which is urging horse owners to be vigilant this summer.

Over the past 10 years, crime in the countryside has become more organised and sophisticated,” said Nicki Whittaker from NFU Mutual. “Thieves are very aware of the value of items on or around livery yards.”

She added that equine crime “dropped slightly” in 2012, but had been “growing steadily” before and since.

“It could be that the recession has caused people to opt for second-hand tack rather than new and the demand has increased,” she said.

With the show season just around the corner, owners are urged to remember the theft of tack and personal belongings from shows is also increasing year-on-year.

Last year, a woman was charged with a number of offences, including the theft of a handbag that she admitted stealing from an unsecured vehicle at a show in Epworth, Humberside.

Other thefts were reported from unlocked lorries at Milton Keynes and Larkhill.

“Tack is not cheap and it is important to remember that not everyone in the crowd [at a show] will be concentrating on you and your performance,” said Alison Cox of NFU Mutual.

Garry Porter from Horsewatch Alliance UK urged riders to use common sense.

“Don’t leave your saddle resting against the box. Don’t leave your handbag lying on the front seat of an unlocked lorry,” he told H&H.

“You assume you’re with like-minded people, but that’s when you’re vulnerable and thieves take advantage. Don’t drop your guard.”

Tack thefts up, horse thefts down

Tack thefts have risen since last October, with a spate reported recently across the country.

“Over the past five months, tack theft claims accounted for 58% of all equine-related crime,” said Ms Whittaker.

“This has changed since our rural crime results last year, where trailers and electric fencing were most commonly stolen.”

The average theft claim is £1,921, but it can be much higher.

“Last winter, we had all of our tack stolen from our tackroom, which is just 50ft from our bedroom window,” said one H&H reader from South Wales, who didn’t want to be named.

“They took just over £8,000 worth of tack — it really shook me.”

However, with the rise of tack thefts, horse theft is decreasing — which is also thought to be linked to the recession.

“Although every case is distressing, horse theft is nowhere near the level it was a decade ago,” added Ms Whittaker.

David Collings, Hampshire Horsewatch co-ordinator, said horse theft is now a “rare occurrence”.

“However, it does happen — 4 were stolen last month in Hampshire,” he said.

“Take note of what you see and go with your gut reaction if you see something suspicious.

“If you have a phone camera and it safe to do so, film/photograph what you have seen. Riders should also consider a head camera.”

Diesel theft — with it being siphoned from lorries — is also reportedly on the rise.

Mark your property — whatever the size

Don’t discount thieves taking more cumbersome items.

H&H reader Caroline Mosely from Midlothian had a Centaur 3-horse heated rug dryer — worth around £400 — and a mounting block stolen 3 weeks ago.

“It was broad daylight, so they must have been confident. Plus the mounting block was 1m high and weighs so much that it takes 2 to lift,” she said.

With eBay and similar sites growing, you need to be able to identify your belongings.

“A clear picture with a close-up of any distinguishing marks will help the police identify your stolen property and will allow you to prove ownership if you see it offered for sale,” said Alison Cox from NFU.

Taking responsibility

David Collings warned that equine-related crime is never going to be high on the police priority list.

“The onus is on horse owners to act, to prevent as much as possible — by marking — but also to report if things are stolen,” he said.

“If it’s not reported, the crime is invisible. You might think it’s a one-off incident but it’s not — there are probably 10 other people thinking the same thing.”

Earlier this year, the combined force of 2 H&H readers led to the recovery of a stash of stolen tack after a list of £20,000-worth of stolen items was posted on the H&H forum.

“My aim was to make the tack unsellable through publicity and the forum post led to [thieves being] arrested and one person having their tack returned,” said the user.

Mr Collings added that extra care must be taken when buying equine equipment, too.

“It all reappears somewhere, in tack sales, car boots, eBay — and who’s buying it? Other horse owners,” he said.

He added that there are 2 types of theft: “organised groups that target trailers and tack” and “the local horse owner who can’t afford straw, feed and hay and so ‘borrow’ yours.”

Owners should question people they don’t recognise on their yard and take note of any number plates on unusual vehicles, warn police.

One reader panellist told H&H of thieves going to extreme lengths.

“A small dog was — we believe — thrown over the wall of our yard,” she said.

“A man arrived saying it had ‘run off’ and was coming into the yard to get it. We were wary they may have been casing out our yard, so asked them to stay put while we got the dog.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (27 March, 2014)