Fears are growing that the welfare of horses and ponies could be seriously compromised because of losses sustained by rural businesses due to the foot and mouth crisis. David Mountford, Head of Equine Operations at the ILPH (International League for the Protection of Horses) says: “While we sympathise wholeheartedly with the farming community at this dreadful time and appreciate the enormity of the government’s task in dealing with the outbreak, we feel we must highlight what could become a serious equine welfare problem.

“Over the past weeks we have been receiving an increasing numbers of calls from concerned owners of riding schools and trekking centres, not in affected areas, whose trade has stopped and who are extremely worried about not having the resources to feed their animals or pay for necessary visits from their vets”, he added.

Dave Guy, ILPH Field Officer, whose area includes the New Forest explained: “There are riding establishments in the forest whose trade has dried up over night because they can’t ride out on the forest. There is even one riding school that because of the restrictions, can’t use the tracks to theirfields or their riding area, let alone the forest or the roads. Their animals are literally stuck in two small turnout paddocks with nowhere to go. They have had no customers for over three weeks and have no cash to feed their horses and ponies.”

An increase in government contributions to rate relief, temporary reduction in rateable value, deferment of payments of taxes and National Insurance contributions, were all in a rural aid package announced by Michael Meacher last week.

David Mountford said: “As much as we would like to help it isn’t within our remit to do so – besides it is the responsibility of the government to look at the riding establishments’ plight within their overall compensation package to rural businesses.”