More than 40 horses have been removed by equine charities in a rescue operation designed to prevent the horses from suffering this winter.

World Horse Welfare, the RSPCA, Redwings Horse Sanctuary and The Donkey Sanctuary worked together to round up and remove the group of horses in East Sussex earlier this week.

The horses had been on the site for a number of years and there were concerns for their welfare going into winter’s harsh weather conditions. A total of 44 horses were signed into World Horse Welfare’s care.

“We have been working with the horses’ owner for quite some time and we are pleased that he has taken the responsible decision to sign over the horses to World Horse Welfare, safeguarding their future and preventing any further welfare problems,” said World Horse Welfare field officer Emma Swadlo.

“These large cases are unfortunately becoming more common. For any number of reasons some owners can become overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping a large number of horses, and their welfare can deteriorate rapidly, so it is essential that charities are able to help in these situations.”

It took two days to round up the horses.

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RSPCA Inspector Becky Carter added: “This was a fantastic joint operation and is a great example of the prevention side of our work.

“This huge number of horses had been living wild at the site for years and constantly breeding. Although we didn’t have any immediate welfare concerns, this could have been a very different story a few months down the line if we hadn’t intervened, as the owner was unable to manage the sheer number of animals.

“A huge part of our work involves dealing with unwanted horses, and so to organise an operation such as this where the horses are safely removed and transported to rehoming centres before their welfare declines is a great positive for us and the other equine charities.”

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The horses have been split between World Horse Welfare’s Hall Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre in Norfolk and the charity’s Glenda Spooner Rescue and Rehoming Centre in Somerset where they will all be individually assessed and begin their rehabilitation with a view to joining World Horse Welfare’s rehoming scheme in the future.

A spokesman for World Horse Welfare told H&H they could not go into further details about the horses, but they were a mix of Fells and Welsh breeds.

“These horses were particularly vulnerable, with some already losing condition,” she added. “Had we waited much longer they would have deteriorated quickly, which would have created needless suffering and made rehabilitating them a longer process.

“We take in horses and ponies who are suffering, and extend this to horses at imminent risk of suffering when we have the capacity. It helps immensely when the owner, as in this case, can recognise that they need help and take the responsible decision to sign them over into our care.”