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More than 40,000 people are expected to make the annual pilgrimage to Cumbria this week for Appleby Horse Fair which starts today (Thursday 4 June).

This year the RSPCA is sending double the usual number of inspectors to Appleby Horse Fair (4-10 June) to provide a round-the-clock presence for the first time.

Appleby Horse Fair is the largest gathering of Romany gypsies and travelling communities in Britain.

Twenty RSPCA inspectors will be in attendance as well as three chief inspectors and an RSPCA vet.

The move comes in response to the charity’s evaluation of the event last year.

RSPCA chief inspector Rob Melloy said: “This is a big event involving a lot of animals and while the majority of those who attend treat them very well, we want to make sure we’re best placed to deal with those who don’t.”

During the fair about 1,500 horses will be washed in the River Eden and run on the flashing lane in front of potential buyers before being sold.

In 2007, there was public outrage when a colt drowned at the event during the traditional washing.

Owner Ian Deers was later jailed for 28 days and banned for five years from keeping horses after being found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal (news, 20 March 2008).

There will also be a “proactive enforcement team” comprising RSPCA inspectors and Cumbrian police officers.

“Last year, the vast majority of verbal warnings were given for the overriding and overwhipping of horses on the flashing lane. That’s where the proactive enforcement team will be focusing their attention,” said Mr Melloy.

“We want people to know we will be taking a tougher line. Causing unnecessary suffering or failing to meet the needs of the animals in their care will not be tolerated.”

There will be three Redwings vets and four World Horse Welfare field officers at the event as well.

Chris Williamson, field officer for World Horse Welfare in the north-west, said: “We will assist the on-site vets, which will free the RSPCA inspectors to police the event and monitor horse welfare.”

Redwings senior welfare vet Nicolas De Brauwere and welfare vet Roxane Kirton will also be attending.

“We are seeking to improve the welfare of all the animals, dogs as well as horses, that attend the event, and we are working with the travelling community to try to change attitudes as well as uphold the animal welfare legislation,” said Mr De Brauwere said.

“Appleby Horse Fair is only one week in a year but we hope that the messages we spread and the work we do there will help us to see improvements in how horses are treated on a permanent basis.”