Suggestions that a free, one-off cull of unwanted horses may be the way to deal with Irish welfare problems have been met with sad agreement by an Irish charity.

Ireland has the most dense horse population in Europe, with an estimated 110,500 sport and leisure horses and 40,927 thoroughbreds living there in 2009.

But the credit crunch has hit the country hard. Charities are full of unwanted horses and neglected and abandoned animals can be seen across the land, plus European passports and microchipping regulations are largely ignored.

Barbara Bent, chairman of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), said: “I never thought I would be in this position, but I cannot see an alternative to a cull.

“I never again want to see the starving foals dumped in woodland and left to die that we saw last winter.

“The recession has led to no market for horses in Ireland and no one has the money to castrate their colts. Every second horse we have been called to this year has been in-foal or with a foal-at-foot.

“But we need to do something before the winter.”

The ISPCA currently has 72 horses waiting to be rehomed and is full to capacity.

At a meeting of the Irish parliament’s joint committee on agriculture, fisheries and food on 30 June, Deputy Christy O’Sullivan recommended a six- to 12-month period when unwanted horses can be culled before EU rules are enforced.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) said it would look into the suggestion.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (29 July, ’10)