Leading horse welfare charities are seeing almost a threefold increase in abandoned horses this year.

And they say tough economic times and the recent long hard winters are to blame. At the start of the year H&H reported a surge in cases, but this figure is growing rapidly.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary says the number of horses reported abandoned since 2009 has almost tripled.

In 2009, 160 such horses were reported to the Norfolk-based charity. In 2010 this rose to 241. The figure for 2011 is 392 to date, with the total expected to be around 460.

The charity reports seeing a rise of calls from members of the public, councils and the police. Horses are found straying on the roads or dumped in fields.

Abandoning a horse is not only illegal but extremely cruel,” said Redwings’ Rachel Angell.

“And a charity is not the instant answer as many are already stretched to the limit.”

Redwings added that it has seen a wide range of abandoned animals- from Shetlands to larger horses and cobs – over the past year.

The RSPCA also reports increased abandonments for the third year running.

“The difficult economic climate and series of long cold winters have made horse ownership harder and more expensive than ever,” said an RSPCA spokesman.

And World Horse Welfare reported similarly gloomy statistics.

“We have received twice as many calls about stray horses this year compared to last. As well as almost 50 per cent more calls about abandoned horses,” said a spokesman.

“We could speculate that the increased costs of keeping horses and low market prices have lead to abandonment, or it could be people are simply reporting them more.”

The Horse Trust told H&H that, while it had not seen any “significant increase” in abandonments, things could change.

With winter setting in and additional feed is needed, further strain is put on budgets.

The Blue Cross agreed, adding it had taken in more welfare cases this year – 27 up from 16 – which was “probably linked” to the downturn.

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (1 December 2011)