A leading Irish animal welfare charity is warning that many horses will die this winter — and is blaming Horse Racing Ireland (HRI).

The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said Ireland is awash with homeless horses who may starve during cold weather.

“Everywhere you go there are fields and fields of horses,” said general manager Jimmy Cahill. “Most are emaciated now, so what will they be like when there is less grass?”

Mr Cahill blamed HRI and the economic crash for the problem.

“People were encouraged to join syndicates when there was plenty of money around,” he said. “Now in the recession the horses are forgotten about.”

A spokesman for HRI said the organisation has always promoted responsible racehorse ownership.

“Whether it is syndicates or sole owners, this is an issue we take very seriously, as do all in the Irish racing industry,” he said.

“In February, the industry came together with the major horse welfare charities in Ireland and launched a policy document, Promoting Responsible Thoroughbred Ownership [news, 5 March].”

But the SPCA expects more than 1,000 horses to die this winter. Mr Cahill said the Dublin SPCA had taken in 84 horses this year and is having to euthanase them.

But Henry Beeby of bloodstock sales company Goffs said that while prices dropped by 40% in 2008 they are starting to improve.

He said: “Last autumn dramatic numbers of foals and yearlings were going unsold. But people are being more pragmatic about prices now, so the situation is improving.”

Breeders predict a 2,000 drop in the number of thoroughbred foals that will be born in Ireland next year, he added.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (17 September, ’09)