The RSPCA attended more than 20,000 cases involving equines last year, compared to fewer than 18,000 in 2006.

To tackle increasing rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming demands, the charity employed nine specially trained equine welfare officers last November, who joined their existing team of 10. This team works alongside general officers, who also assist with equine cases.

Most often, the RSPCA is alerted to a case by members of the public.

“If you have any welfare concerns you should ring us,” said RSPCA equine inspector Leanna Rice. “A lot of the time it’s teaching people that how you treat your horse is not how every horse needs to be kept — it’s about educating the public as well as the owners.”

Calls are graded according to their urgency — the most critical will be seen that day as a priority — and an officer is sent to assess the horse.

If an owner can be traced and the animal is not in a life-threatening condition, advice can be offered to help them improve the care of the animal.

“You have to give people the chance to put things right,” said Inspector Rice. “A lot of what we do is education and helping people to improve their situation.”

Well-meaning members of the public are often tempted to feed a neglected horse. However, if the horse is found to have access to hay and water, regardless of who is supplying it, the charity is limited in the help it can offer.

“We need people to take a step back and trust that we will check on the horse every day and monitor the situation with a vet,” said Inspector Rice.

Frustrations

For a horse to be seized by the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act without the consent of an owner, a vet must find they are suffering at a level that would stand up in court. Police assistance is also required.

If a legal case is brought against the owner, the horses are left in limbo until proceedings have ended.

“During this time we can’t do anything intrusive, like gelding, without the owner’s agreement, unless it’s absolutely necessary to save their life,” said Inspector Rice. “It can take months — sometimes years — and it becomes incredibly expensive for the charity.”

Tony Tyler, deputy chief executive of World Horse Welfare, echoed Inspector Rice’s frustrations.

“A recent case involving more than 40 miniature ponies in Suffolk took almost two years to conclude and this can place a huge strain on our resources,” he told H&H.

Many of the horses were stallions who were not allowed to be gelded. As a result they had to be housed separately by World Horse Welfare.

“During this time we cannot begin the process of rehabilitation to get them ready for rehoming, and until we can rehome horses, we cannot free up space for more welfare cases to come into our centres,” said Mr Tyler.

Teamwork

The RSPCA works alongside several equine charities, including World Horse Welfare, which has its own field officers who often assist the RSPCA with cases.

As World Horse Welfare is not a prosecuting organisation, it works with other agencies, including the RSPCA and Trading Standards, to bring cases to court.

In December last year, the two charities worked together with Redwings and the Donkey Sanctuary to remove more than 40 horses from a location in East Sussex.

“The size of the site, in excess of 100 acres, and the fact that most of the horses were unhandled meant this would not have been possible without the combined resources, expertise and manpower of the four charities,” said Mr Tyler.


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Vets also play a vital role.

Claire Brown of Field Equine has been working with the RSPCA for 10 years.

“It’s very different from private clients — it’s an eye-opener,” she told H&H. “You never know what you will see until you are there.”

She added that the work is very rewarding and cited the rescue of a colt, named Keith, who was abandoned with a “horrific” hock injury last year. He has since made a full recovery and has been rehomed as a racehorse’s travelling companion.

Ref: H&H 24/3/16