Fears rise in ‘unwanted’ horses will overwhelm charities this winter

  • Charity rehoming figures remained steady in 2022 – but concerns have been shared that an “increase in unwanted horses could be just around the corner”, as the cost-of-living crisis remains a major worry.

    As inflation, fuel, and energy costs soared across the UK this year, there are few who have not been affected, including in the equestrian industry. Statistics from the RSPCA’s Animal Kindness Index 2022, a UK-wide survey, showed the cost of living crisis is potentially “one of the biggest threats to the welfare of animals across the country”.

    The RSPCA took in 365 horses by December, and a charity spokesman told H&H the RSPCA is “extremely concerned” about the impact of the ongoing crisis on owners’ finance, and consequently their equines.

    “A worrying trend we saw at the end of summer is that the condition of some equines entering our care was very poor – often around 0.5 body condition score,” he said, adding that this was a “huge red flag”.

    “There are other signs of the crisis starting to impact equines, with charities which accept them from the general public reporting more approaches from owners regarding potential surrender of their horses or asking for advice about care costs.”

    The RSPCA rehomed 186 equines last year, which left the charity in a “better position at the beginning of winter than it might have been”, but the spokesman said capacity issues at RSPCA centres mean it is continuing to seek horse fosterers to help look after the equines in its care.

    Bransby Horses took in a similar amount of equines to previous years, with 155 admissions between January and November. But in the same period it had 50 calls from owners looking to sign their horses over owing to financial difficulties. The charity is concerned an “increase of unwanted horses could be just around the corner”.

    “We think the number of requests to charities to take in equines from private homes is steadily increasing across the board and we are concerned routine care could lessen as people struggle financially – which in turn will be compromising welfare short- and long-term,” said Rachel Jenkinson, Bransby welfare manager.

    “We understand the current financial situation is putting increased strain on owners. All we would say is please do not lose hope – give Bransby Horses a call if you are struggling, we are here to help and can signpost you to possible solutions.

    “While it is sadly not possible for us to say yes to all private intake requests, we will always respond to welfare concerns, abandonments and those in immediate danger.”

    A Bransby spokesman added that ”demand continues to be high” for rehoming, with 109 equines placed in foster homes during 2022.

    Redwings chief executive Lynn Cuttress told H&H it had been “a year of consolidation” for the charity, given the cost-of-living challenges.

    “We’ve had to be shrewd and negotiate the best terms we can get on everything we purchase and are still facing huge increases in feed and hay bills plus electricity and other utilities,” she said, adding that despite the “ongoing difficult circumstances” the charity was able to take in 109 horses and ponies this year up to December.

    “We’ve worked hard to find homes for 147 equines between January and November. We hope people will continue to support the important rehoming work of registered charities next year but would urge people to think carefully about taking on a horse at this time,” she said.

    A World Horse Welfare spokesman told H&H at the end of 2022 its four centres were at around 75% capacity, and the “strong demand” for rehoming had helped keep space going into winter.

    “As winter bites, we are alert to the predicted effects of increased cost of living,” he said.

    The charity had rehomed 312 equids this year by mid-December and taken in 274, not including foals born at the rescue centres.

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