The British Horse Society (BHS) says it has seen a “significant rise” in calls from yard owners and other liveries who have been left looking after an animal by people who have, simply, disappeared.

“We’ve had cases where the owners have deliberately changed phone numbers,” said Lee Hackett, head of welfare at the BHS.

“There was one instance where it would appear the horse was [moved] to a new yard just to be abandoned. All the information the owner gave was false.”

Rachel Angell, senior welfare co-ordinator at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, said the trend needs to be viewed within the wider picture of abandonments.

So far this year, 475 horses have been reported as abandoned to the charity – compared with 450 for the whole of last year and 160 in 2009.

“Of course, those are not all livery yards,” she said, “but it does show how serious the situation is out there.”

Ms Angell said the majority of calls she receives about abandoned liveries are from DIY yards, where there is often no formal livery agreement in place.

One yard owner – who contacted H&H anonymously – said she was left to care for two horses and four ponies.

“The owner owes us nearly £3,000 in livery and feed bills,” she said. “We are taking legal action to try to recover some of the cost and have had to shut the door on our livery yard.

“I was disgusted to find that charities cannot do anything in this situation – they said it was all our responsibility.”

Ms Angell advises that, although abandonment is illegal, when a horse is left on a yard – without a formal contract in place – it can be difficult to find the information necessary to take a case to court.

“Most times it will come down to civil legislation, because the animal is OK and its basic needs are being met,” she said.

“Having a comprehensive contract in place not only sets out the acceptable standard but also comes into effect if an abandonment situation occurs – and will prove to be very useful for any legal proceedings.”

But horses are not only being abandoned at DIY yards. Pippa Boyle, whose husband Jim is a Flat trainer in Epsom, says they have been left with several horses to rehome.

“Our owners now are fantastic, but we have had ones that say, ‘I’ll give you that horse’ when they can’t pay their bills.

“What can you do? It’s a living thing, you can’t not feed it,” she said.

Both the BHS and Redwings agree that abandonments on livery yards can be attributed to the state of the market.

Rachel Angell believes lower purchase prices have attracted new horse owners who have given little thought to the ongoing costs of ownership, leaving them in a fix when things go wrong.

And Lee Hackett says abandonment can be an easier option than trying to make a sale.

“Because the market’s slowed, those at the lower end aren’t shifting,” he said.

“If you’re selling a horse for £500, although it [abandonment] is horrible and unethical, it is [a way of] cutting your losses.”

Contact the BHS welfare department on 02476 840517.

To read the full news story see the current issue of H&H (21 June 2012)