The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visited sick horses in a Cairo clinic yesterday. The visit to the Cairo-based operations of the equine welfare charity Brooke Hospital was the one element of a five-day royal programme in Egypt that the Duchess specifically requested. Meanwhile, Princess Anne is also showing her commitment to equine welfare by today launching a five-year scheme which aims to improve the welfare of farm horses in Romania.

The Duchess first became aware of the Brooke’s pioneering efforts to raise the standard of equine welfare overseas at a fundraising event in 2004, and Prince Charles visited one of the Brooke’s Luxor clinics in 1995. “The request for the visit came from Clarence House,” explained Niki Austin of the Brooke. “Obviously they are both horse lovers and they made time to see and hear what we do.”

Staff at the hospital showed the Prince and the Duchess animals bearing terrible physical injuries, sustained by overuse and being forced to carry heavy loads. There were 53 horses in the clinic’s ward, many injured as a result of collisions with Cairo’s traffic. “Lameness and dehydration are among the most common welfare problems,” Austin explained. “We have to assess the prevalence of the problem and also the amount of pain it is causing.”

The hospital was established by Dorothy Brooke, the wife of Major General Geoffrey Brooke, who headed the British Cavalry in Egypt. Appalled at the plight of ex-cavalry First World War horses, sold to stone quarries in Cairo, Brooke raised £20,000 by putting an appeal in The Daily Telegraph. The Cairo hospital opened in 1934. Today the Brooke is working hard to educate and train horse owners in Cairo how best to care for their horses.

“The welfare problems are not down to the nature of the people,” Austin explained. “Animals are a very important part of their culture but we’re talking about a whole cultural change when it comes to treating them better.”

The charity also runs clinics in a host of other countries across the world, providing free veterinary care, training and education programmes for animal owners.

Back in the UK, The Princess Royal will today unveil a five-year project, co-ordinated by the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), at the Romanian embassy in London. The scheme aims to raise the standard of equine welfare in Romania.

According to the ILPH, lack of knowledge, resources and awareness of horse welfare lead to poor equine welfare in Romania. Since the fall of Communism and the break-up of mechanised collective farms the country has witnessed a regression to small plots of land farmed mainly by horsepower.

Today the country is thought to be home to around one million draft horses. However many of these animals are kept in dirty conditions, wear ill-fitting harnesses and suffer from malnutrition. Often when they are no longer able to work, inhumane methods are used to put them to death. Under the ILPH project UK equine experts will provide training to Romanian vets, saddlers and blacksmiths and ensure EU animal welfare legislation is enforced. They will also give horse owners practical advice and training on caring for their animals.

ILPH chief executive, John Smales, explained that Romania’s impending accession to the EU made it a good time to work with the country’s citizens to improve the lives of working horses.

“We have found that Romanians have a thirst for knowledge and are keen to improve the welfare of their animals,” he said, adding that in five years there will be a permanent change for the better. “It is hoped that Romania’s example can be used to encourage higher standards of welfare in other former Eastern bloc countries, where several generations of knowledge and horse husbandry skills have been lost through Communism.”

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