Animal welfare organisations have attacked the growing trend of rescuing and importing European horses destined for slaughter.
Small-scale British rescue groups are increasing in number with as many as 1,000 French, Spanish and Italian rescue horses set to be imported to the UK this year.
But British and French horse welfare charities say this often prolongs the misery for the rescued animals and exacerbates the problem of housing unwanted horses in the UK.
World Horse Welfare is campaigning for the introduction of slaughter at source and a carcass-only trade to spare more than 100,000 horses and donkeys who endure live transport to slaughter in Europe every year.
Director of campaigns and communication Jo White said: “We are very keen to deter well-meaning horse lovers from purchasing these animals.
“Saving individual horses and donkeys from the slaughter trade is very tempting. However, by buying one animal, often for a lot more than their market value, you fuel the purchase [by the seller] of many more.”
Redwings Horse Sanctuary and the Blue Cross joined World Horse Welfare in criticising the importation of rescue horses from the Continent.
Jenny Lupton, who lives in the Dordogne and runs Equine Rescue France, is also critical.
She said: “The dealers have cottoned on to the fact that there are English people who will pay more than meat money for these poor crocks and waifs.”
But other rescuers, like Rebecca Menz, from Buxton, Derbyshire, think the groups provide an important service to European horses.
Rebecca set up Equine Rescue and Rehoming at the beginning of 2008 and has almost 1,200 members who fund her work through donations and provide homes for the rescued horses.
She said her organisation had bought and imported 100 retired riding school ponies, privately owned horses and three English thoroughbreds. She hopes to rescue around 350 horses this year.
Another charity, Equine Section, was established in 2007 and is run by Debbie Hughes in Beeston, Nottinghamshire.
A third charity, Reflex Rescuing and Rehoming, is run by Teza Englefield, an equine agent in Maldon, Essex, and is supported by show jumper Laura Renwick.
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For this article in full, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (5 February, ’09)