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Hundreds of horses are being fed without permission, study finds

Hundreds of horses are being fed without their owners’ permission, research indicates, 35 of whom have lost their lives as a result.

Preliminary results of research led by the University of Bristol show that 788 of 1,017 people surveyed suspected or had evidence of their horses’ being fed without their permission. More than half of these respondents said the feeding had become more frequent since the first lockdown.

It was found that 220 horses were ill or injured as a result of the feeding, 109 of whom needed veterinary treatment. Of this number, 81 did not make a full recovery, including 35 who died or were put down. Of the people feeding, 82.7% were families.

The university is backing the British Horse Society’s (BHS) #BeHorseAware campaign, which was launched last year aiming to educate the public on the effects of feeding horses and ponies without permission.

“With more people taking to the countryside during the third lockdown, the BHS has been made aware of instances where horses have been seriously injured, made extremely ill or in some cases have died as a result of the public feeding the horse or through actions such as leaving gates open,” a BHS spokesman said.

The society is advising walkers not to feed horses at all, to leave gates and property as you find them and to keep dogs on leads. It has also produced signs warning against feeding, which owners can download and put on display in and around their fields.

BHS director of welfare Gemma Stanford said: “We believe many people act with no malicious intent and at this time of year members of the public think that they are helping a hungry horse. However, they are unaware of the timings at which owners feed their horses and the risks that certain foods or grass cuttings can pose.

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“We encourage horse owners to download the free signs; the greater the awareness of the issue, the more likely people are to change their behaviour.”

Jo Hockenhull, senior research associate at the University of Bristol Vet School, said: “It is important to recognise that in many of the cases reported in our survey, horses and ponies are being fed household vegetables and items [people] would think are safe like grass, apples and carrots. Even if you think it is harmless, the horses might have underlying health issues or allergies. Our research shows that the consequences of feeding horses anything without permission can be very serious or even fatal.”

The full report will be published in March.

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