Thank you to those who wrote, texted or messaged in support of my last column. Clearly many also feel strongly about the growing anthropomorphism of horses. Yes, our horses are among our best friends, but that doesn’t mean we should treat them the same way as we do our human companions.
It was however not without a sense of irony that I penned the last column. On the one hand, we have a new and growing welfare problem with molly-coddled and over-fed horses, while on the other the old problem of neglected and starving horses continues to grow. Many of these horses are young — foals even — seemingly ownerless, and are often literally dumped. Others, as mentioned on the Horse & Hound letter pages (17 December), are at the end of their lives, thrown out to die.
The sort-of good news is that last year the RSPCA prosecuted the highest number of people for horse offences for decades. The not-so-good news is that this year it has received more calls than ever from a worried public, and is rescuing abandoned and neglected horses every week.
Running out of room
Perhaps the fact that the UK has the second-largest population of horses in the EU, at an estimated 800,000 (figure from World Horse Welfare), has something to do with it. France, a country over twice the size of the UK and four times the size of England, has the largest.
What I find even more interesting is that Germany, a country one-and-half times the size of the UK, has just 480,000 horses (according to the Equestrian Sports and Breeding in Germany, or FN). Each year German sport horse breeders produce around 30,000 foals from 60,000 broodmares and 3,500 stallions, meaning that around one-fifth of the German equine population is involved in breeding sport horses.
Although it is currently impossible to assess the equivalent numbers bred here each year, a realistic estimate would be somewhere around 5,000. You can do the maths.
The truth is our small island has way too many horses, of which many are of little use and are causing a plethora of welfare problems for “other people” to deal with.
What should we do about this huge problem? First, we must financially support the charities that do endless and often heartbreaking work in rescuing and looking after the neglected and abandoned. But we have to tackle the root cause — namely, over-breeding the wrong sort of horses — and to this end please support the British Horse Society castration clinic campaign. It is a start.
Putting two and two together, what we need is more of the right sort of horses — competition horses that will stay sound, as well as sane riding horses for the less ambitious. What we also need, however, is far fewer of the wrong sorts of horses. We have the right ingredients to breed good horses and many breeders are using them to good effect, but we need to ensure that all breeders — irrespective of what they are breeding — breed horses that are correct, wanted, have a purpose and are saleable at a sensible price (not a giveaway).
I know that those reading this are responsible breeders; but we all know those who are not. It is up to the experienced and knowledgeable to help and educate. That is not easy, as everyone has the “perfect” horse to breed from and these days it takes a brave person to try and “help” another. It is much easier to take the path of least resistance.
Breeders, we need you more than ever.
H&H 31 Dec 15