Customers with one of the country’s leading equine insurers, NFU Mutual, are demanding an explanation for sharp increases in their premiums this year.

Long regarded as a reputable and good-value insurance company, NFU’s renewals in the first three months of 2011 showed noticeable hikes, with some policy-holders reporting massive 50-100% increases in premiums.

Internet forums are abuzz with stories of increases, even to policies where no claims have been made.

“When my renewal came through, my monthly payment had doubled,” said Caitlin Barnes, who insured her 19-year-old all-rounder Henry with NFU Mutual.

The trend appears not to be universal. Equine insurers KBIS and SEIB reported no increases beyond the rate of inflation, with a spokesman for KBIS adding that it had seen no pattern of increase in claims out of the ordinary.

Carl Stephens of Petplan said: “We haven’t seen any major events or reasons that would warrant massive premium increases.”

But he went on to add: “For years some insurers have been pricing their policies at unsustainable levels and now they are having to increase dramatically their premiums to cover the costs of this strategy. Unfortunately a lot of horse owners are now feeling the effects of this.”

NFU Mutual spokesman Tim Price said the increases had become inevitable after rising losses in the horse insurance market.

“Losses increased very steeply in 2010, but the major impact has been the increased cost of vets’ fees claims,” he said.

“The fees vets charge for basic services has increased steadily and we are also seeing more new treatments and diagnostic techniques, for example CAT scans.

“The average cost of vets’ fees claims has gone up from £1,000 in 2004 to £1,700 today,” said Mr Price.

He added that owners increasingly look to treat and restore horses to health who might previously have been written off.

Average premiums at NFU Mutual have risen by 15%, but Mr Price admitted much of the increase has been loaded on to older horses, with age-related price rises now starting at 13 and further increases at 17, 19 and 20.

Sharon Daly has a two-year-old gelding and a 14-year-old Welsh section A insured for vets’ bills of up to £5,000 and loss of use at £2,500 and £2,000 respectively.

She told H&H: “I’ve insured with NFU for five years without a claim. Last year, my premium was £65.38; at renewal this year, in May, it went up to £95.64, an increase of almost 50 per cent!

“I’ve been told that as my sec A is 14 the underwriters have loaded his policy and this is where the increase lies.”

H&H Editor Lucy Higginson has also seen a sharp increase in premium for her nine-year-old mare.

She said: “My NFU insurance quote for Rosie — who’s insured for £7,000, vets’ bills, tack and trailer — has shot up from £561.44 to £753.66.

“We have claimed vet treatment for a couple of one-off ailments and NFU has been excellent to deal with. But I was shocked by the size of the increase.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (2 June, 2011)