Irish welfare organisations recently held a “constructive” meeting with Brendan Smith, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to discuss horse welfare.

Horse Sport Ireland chairman Joe Walsh led a delegation including representatives from Irish Horse Welfare and The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to meet with Brendan Smith on Wednesday 14 October.

Mr Walsh said the large number of horses in the country coupled with the economic downturn could result in problems as winter approaches.

Problems identified included a lack of a proper traceability system for horses and too many agencies trying to deal with equine issues.

Currently, as well as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the local authorities are responsible for implementing the Control of Horses Act, while welfare problems are legally a problem for the Gardai.

“There is no doubt we have too many horses in the country and as we head into the winter we want to ensure that we have plans in place to deal with any welfare problems that may arise,” said Mr Walsh. “The meeting was very constructive and the minister agreed to set up a meeting involving the relevant agencies to ensure we have the correct protocols in place.”

He also stressed a traceability system, similar to the ones already in place for cattle and sheep, is required for horses.

“People are not obliged to register a change in the ownership of a horse and this means that it can be difficult to hold people to account for the condition of their horses, or in cases of abandoned horses. This needs to be looked at urgently, as it would also have major implications if there was a disease outbreak,” said Mr Walsh.

He added that Ireland needs to improve its breeding industry to ensure more valuable horses are bred and that more horse slaughtering facilities should be opened.