Serious concerns regarding the welfare of horses during transport were raised this weekend after two lorry loads of horses destined for slaughter were stuck in no man’s land between the Ukrainian and Hungarian borders for as long as five days.

The two lorries were reported to have arrived at the border on Thursday 20 May, but having passed Ukrainian border control, Hungarian authorities refused to allow the lorries through.

One of the lorries, an Italian lorry, was overloaded, and the horses did not have the ‘s’ brand on their hooves which denotes that they are destined for slaughter. In addition, it seems that the driver’s paperwork was not in order. To compound problems, the Ukrainian authorities refused to allow the lorry back in to unload the animals as his single entry visa had expired.

A horse in the second lorry, a Croatian lorry, was discovered to be injured on arrival at the Hungarian border, and is believed to have subsequently died. Chief Executive of the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), John Smales, explained the problem:

”We believe that because the horse died, the Hungarian vet requested lab test to ensure that it had not died of an infectious disease, but because there are no unloading facilities at Kop [he border crossing] all the horses were forced to stay on the lorry.”

There seems to be some confusion over the actual sequence of events, but the problems seem to have arisen because Hungary, which recently joined the EU, was adhering rigorously to EU rules and regulations. An action which would have been admirable but for the fact that while problems were resolved, there was nowhere for the horses to go.

ILPH campaigns manager Jo White was adamant about the need for change.

“In terms of procedure, this needs to be remedied. It has demonstrated just how important it is to have facilities for offloading, resting and watering horses at border inspection points, or else the horses’ welfare is compromised.

“We would ideally like to see a compulsory 24 hour rest period for horses off the lorry on arrival into the EU, unless it can be proved with documented route plans that the animals have only travelled a short distance,” she continued.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Italian driver’s documents were in order, and he continued into Hungary where the horses were being offloaded for rest and water. The Croatian lorry had been turned back into the Ukraine, and forced to unload while it is being established how and why the fatality occurred. It is still not clear where the horses on either lorry come from, and not was it possible to lay blame in any particular quarter.

However, this incident has raised the point that the enforcement of European Legislation can cause as many problems as it resolves if there are not adequate facilities in place at border crossings. John Smales emphasised the need to address this issue, saying:

“Enforcement of European legislation is crucial to the welfare of horses travelling great distances across Europe, so all transit countries must have unloading facilities should there be a problem that holds them up for any period of time at the border.

“We must not have horses kept for days on a lorry because there are no facilities to unload, rest and water them, it is just not acceptable in the 21st century,” he concluded.