Equine welfare charities remain pushed to maximum capacity as a result of a “systematic failure of ownership and enforcement” — but it is hoped possible new legislation could help.
Charities are facing challenges with a rise in complex multi-agency cases involving large numbers of horses, but say they have to act “within the law”, whereby if animals are being kept in legal conditions, their hands are tied.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H the charity’s centres have taken in 253 horses this year compared to 266 in 2018, but said the decline was as centres are full — not owing to a decrease in cases.
“While the number of horses visibly fly-grazing has decreased as a result of the Control of Horses Act, the stark reality is that demands on welfare charities and the number of horses at risk remain consistently high at around 7,000. So this is no longer so much of a horse crisis as systemic failure of ownership and enforcement,” said Mr Owers.
“We have taken in 121 horses under prosecution compared to 110 last year and 76 in 2017. This had a significant impact because while they are the subjects of prosecution, we are limited on what we can do; they cannot be castrated, brought on or rehomed until the case is concluded, which can take two years or more. Cases are becoming increasingly complex, often featuring groups of horses, and sometimes a multi-agency approach is the only way of resolving them, which places heavier demands on our resources.
“On a more positive note, there has been a step forward on the licensing of rescue and rehoming centres in England and Scotland, for which we hope there will be progress on consultation next year and possible legislation.”
RSPCA equine welfare expert Mark Kennedy told H&H the charity rehomed 226 horses in 2019, but took in more than 820 this year compared to 777 in 2018, and received more than 20,000 welfare calls.
“Coping with the levels of neglect our inspectors see daily is hugely challenging; this is amplified when well-meaning animal lovers take to social media accusing charities of failing to act, while failing to recognise that the RSPCA must act within the law,” said Dr Kennedy.
“We may not like conditions animals are kept in, but if those are legal, our hands are tied. We are often working behind the scenes, but are restricted by what we can say publicly about a situation. This can result in rising tensions and people taking the law into their own hands to ‘rescue’ horses which they feel charities are ignoring,” (news, 13 June).
Redwings chief executive Lynn Cutress told H&H the charity has taken in 105 equines this year, compared to 94 in 2018.
“This year we’ve attended talks with the government alongside other charities to discuss ways to address the root causes, such as tackling indiscriminate breeding, increasing the traceability through new microchipping laws and the introduction of the Central Equine Database, as well as the potential licensing of rescue centres,” she said.
Rosie Mogford, senior horse rehoming manager at Blue Cross, told H&H the charity’s centres are full and the demand for welfare support “only seems to be increasing”.
“We are finding some smaller rescue organisations and sanctuaries are becoming overwhelmed with the numbers in their care and welfare becomes compromised. We would like to see the introduction of licensing and regulation of rescue centres and sanctuaries to prevent large groups of horses suddenly needing outside help,” she said.
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