A spate of fatalities involving loose horses has been a stark reminder to horse owners to ensure their fields are securely fenced.

Last week H&H readers were horrified after two separate accidents — one involving a family pet, the other 12 horses whose owner has not yet been identified — were reported on the H&H website.

Details emerged last week that a horse had been killed in a road accident in West Yorkshire after escaping from its field on 5 November.

The animal had found its way onto a rural lane in the dark, at around 7pm, and was hit by two vehicles. The horse was struck with so much force that it was decapitated.

“One car was travelling towards the horse and hit it first, then the animal was struck by a second vehicle travelling in the opposite direction,” said a police spokesman.

The horse belonged to a family. H&H contacted the owner but had no response.

In the other incident, the 12 horses died when hit by two trains at Fen Road level crossing in Milton on 19 November.

The problem is a nationwide issue.

On 3 November three donkeys were killed in a crash in the New Forest, in what has been described by the Verderers as “the worst road accident in the area for 20 years”.

One animal was killed on impact; the other two were put down after sustaining serious injuries.

And last month a mare and foal were hit by a car after escaping from a field in Lancashire. The mare broke a leg but the foal survived.

Also in October four horses were killed after being hit by a lorry in Staffordshire.

But it’s not just horses that have been killed. A driver died after his car collided with a horse in South Yorkshire in September. Police had no details of where the horse had come from or why it was on the road.

Check your boundaries

Owners are urged to check their fencing to ensure there are no escape routes for animals. With hedges bare of leaves at this time of year, many are finding it easier to get out of fields.

“We would always advise owners to ensure that their horse is kept in a field with secure fencing and, if a horse is tethered, to ensure that he is tethered safely according to the Code of Practice on Tethering,” said a spokesman for World Horse Welfare.

“Always make sure that you make regular checks on your horse to ensure that he is kept in a safe and secure environment, thus reducing the chance of any harm coming to your animal or others.”

Horse owners are also reminded that under the Animals Act 1971 they are liable for their animals’ actions should they cause an accident.

“It is important to remember, however, that even the most diligent owners need to check their boundary fences are secure. Should their horse escape and cause an accident, they could be held strictly liable,” said Gemma Stanford of the BHS.

A growing issue

Animal rescue specialist Jim Green from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service told H&H loose horses are increasingly a problem — most likely due to the financial climate.

“We’re seeing more and more being dumped and then roaming loose due to these days of austerity,” he said.

He also warned that horses often escaped when gates were left open by members of the public, and that it wasn’t just road accidents that were a problem — horses falling into ditches, canals and even becoming stuck down manholes seem an increasing occurance.

“Earlier this month we were called out as a horse that had escaped from a nearby field was in a leisure centre car park,” he said.

“It was a stallion and was causing mayhem and biting people. The police were called but were struggling, so called us. The problem is that not many of them have horse experience, so they don’t appreciate the risk.”

He added that the fire service is working with the equestrian industry to encourage all emergency services responders to be aware of the dangers and to have training.

But financial cutbacks are a problem.

“Despite the number of cases the fire services are getting they are still reluctant [to act] as it takes extra training — but we must put the message out that loose animals are also a hazard to the public. Recently a motorcylist was killed in the New Forest when he hit a pony.”

In 2012 the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Association (BARTA) was set up to help fire services all over the country.

“We need to keep our profile up and urge people to support the work of the animal rescue services,” added Mr Green.

The Hampshire Animal Rescue Unit was set up 10 years ago. Last year the unit received 300 calls, 80 of which involved large animals, and the unit has provided training for firefighters in 44 of the 50 fire services in the country.

“There are significant cuts being made and animal rescue is one of the areas being scrutinised. We’ve got to be more efficient and smarter because we won’t have the resources we’ve had,” he added.

The scourge of fly-grazing

One of the major causes for the increase in road accidents is the growing issue of fly-grazing.

According to the BHS, reports of horses straying on roads, dumped on private or council land and abandonments at livery yards have all increased.

“While accidents can happen for a number of reasons, we are aware of an increase in road traffic accidents and near-misses caused by fly-grazing and poorly tethered horses straying onto the roads. These horses are often left in fields with inadequate fencing or no fencing at all,” added Roly Owers from World Horse Welfare.

In the incident in Cambridgeshire last week in which 12 horses died on a railway line, no owner has yet come forward.

“We are very keen to find out who the horses belong to,” said sergeant David Barker of Cambridgeshire Police.

“We just can’t ascertain how the horses got onto the line. There doesn’t seem to have been any obvious access point, but we’re keeping an open mind.”

Last month equine welfare charities’ battle ongoing against fly-grazing was given a boost after a private members bill to tackle the problem was proposed.

The Control of Horses Bill has been brought forward by MP for York Outer, Julian Sturdy, who has worked with local groups to try to deal with the issue in his constituency (news, 24 July).

The MP wants England to follow in the footsteps of Wales, which introduced legislation in January giving local authorities the power to seize or impound horses abandoned on public or private land, without permission.

Roly added that the organisation have been working with Norfolk and Suffolk councils after a fatal accident late last year, which prompted a coroner to warn that more deaths were inevitable unless fly-grazing was addressed.

“However, fly-grazing is still on the rise in England, so this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

“This is an unacceptable risk to the horses, as well as to motorists. That is why we are pressing for tougher laws on fly-grazing. It may surprise some that landowners may be liable if horses escape from their land and cause an accident.”

Ref: H&H Thursday 27 December, 2014

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