Ponies bought for less than £1 in UK are being shipped illegally to Ireland where they are sold to inner-city children

Authorities on both sides of the Irish border are being urged to step in and halt the smuggling of cheap ponies from the UK to the Republic of Ireland.

The ponies are being bought at sales in the UK for as little as 80p and shipped illegally across the Irish Sea before being sold to youngsters on the streets of Dublin.

Inspector Robert Kenny of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says just a handful of unscrupulous dealers are involved, but they are flooding the city with horses and ponies who are crossing the water in poor condition.

“They are coming over every month and I don’t know how they are getting out of the UK in the condition they are in. If they were being brought in here legally, they would be subject to strict veterinary checks at the ports.”

Calls for import crackdown

The ponies are often suffering from strangles and malnutrition. They are described by DSPCA as mainly Shetland or New Forest types.

Barelyhandled, they are being brought off the moor, crammed into lorries and then targeted at children who pay around Euros 150 . They then get led home through the streets of the city. The trauma must be terrible. Many of them don’t survive the journey from the market.”

Insp Kenny wants to see a crackdown by politicians and police both in the UK and the Republic. One importer based in London has already had his truck and ponies seized and been warned off.

They had been packed in the trailer for two days. There was no food or water and they were eating their own faeces.

“The Northern Ireland Police Service has also been tracking one particular individual who has brought in 16 Shetland ponies andnot been near them for a month. Many of them have foals at foot.

“Often the dealers will produce veterinary papers saying the ponies are fit for sale. That doesn’t mean they are fit to be moved let alone taken abroad. Some of the animalswould be better off being slaughtered than suffering through being brought over here.”

Unregistered ponies at risk

Elaine Ward of the Shetland Pony Society said that safeguards by the breedsocieties to follow up changes of ownership, meant that only unregistered ponies were likely to be involved.

“We certainly have no evidence of it happening and often when people talk about Shetland ponies they just mean any small pony.We have a strong group in Northern Ireland, but we are dealing with ponies going over to private homes through the proper channels.”

Rumours of horses and ponies being taken to Ireland for slaughter for meat in mainland Europe have always been rife.

An ILPH spokesman said: “There have always been stories of horses going to Ireland for slaughter and, in the past, we have worked on the premise that with some of these scrawny little ponies, this kind of exercise is simply not cost-effective.

“But we are aware that some of these animals are going to Ireland because there is the kind of market for children’s riding ponies that doesn’t exist in the UK. It should be stressed that the story is not always going to end up badly – a lot of the ponies will be looked after well.”

Back in 1998, the Irish government drew up an act to prevent children keeping ponies in the centre of Dublin. The ILPH responded with a youth project to help the youngsters maintain contact with the ponies and offer support in their care.

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