Having any equine stolen is heartbreaking, but imagine loaning your beloved horse to what you believe is a good home, only to discover later that he’s vanished without trace.

This is the situation facing many owners around Britain who have answered an advertisement seeking companion horses on loan. They are the latest victims of an elaborate scam.

The scam operates by unscrupulous people advertising in local newspapers or equestrian magazines for sound or unsound horses to be a companion to other animals.

Over the phone, the potential loanee comes across as a very nice, genuine and knowledgeable person. Satisfied that their horse or pony is going to a good home, owners either agree to have their horse picked up, or arrange a mutually convenient meeting point, usually halfway between the two destinations.

Many owners agree to sign a contract that they believe is a loan agreement. It is so cleverly worded that most people don’t realise it actually confirms a transfer of goods or a bill of sale.

When owners later attempt to visit, they are put off until it becomes apparent that all is not well. The telephone number, which is usually a mobile, is disconnected and the address, if given, turns out to be false.

The majority of owners don’t get to see the stables where their horse is supposedly being taken, so it is virtually impossible to trace the animal’s whereabouts.

Most upsetting of all, owners will never discover their horse’s fate, the rideable ones are sold at market or auction, while the remainder go for slaughter.

Nichola Gregory, press officer for BHS, advises people to think hard about what they would do should their horse become unrideable, before they buy.

“Although it is a very difficult decision to make, it may be kinder to have your horse put down at home,” said Nichola.

To ensure you do not suffer a similar experience make sure you visit the potential loanee at the premises where your horse will be kept, and obtain reputable references from a qualified instructor or through a local riding club.

If you have been the victim of a similar deception, contact your local police station or local area horsewatch co-ordinator.