This morning we’re visiting the staging post at Zebrzydowice, in Poland close to the border with the Czech Republic.
We’ve had a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast, but my mind is all the time on the horses we saw at the market yesterday — they’ll be waiting in collection centres ready to start their trip, and horses from Lithuania will already be on the road.
A staging post is where transporters stop to rest, feed and water animals — either after an eight-hour drive for just enough time to be given food and water, or, if they’ve been driving for 24 hours, they should, by law, stop for 24 hours.
Business is bad at the staging post
Zebrzydowice is eerie, empty and gives me a very strange feeling. Knowing how many animals have passed through here, their lives totally in the hands of the men transporting them, completely at their mercy.
Zdzislaw Sztymon, managing director since 1986, explains that since the arrival of free movement when Poland joined the EU in 2004, business has been bad. Without the border controls and their permanent veterinary inspections, lorries can keep going on the road, and are not checked.
He says mostly Lithuanian trucks stop here — one or two a week — Polish trucks only stop if they have a problem. Because of the bad business, he says the staging post will close at the end of the year.
World Horse Welfare’s Jo White says its closure will be “catastrophic” for welfare.
The current regulations
We discuss the current regulations. Mr Sztymon says all lorries now have individual partitions, but they are a double-edged sword. Though partition should extend to the floor, they often have a gap at the bottom, and if a horse falls it become wedged and badly injure or even break a leg.
But Jo explains that before partitions were introduced, one horse falling would bring the others down like dominos. Once down it is virtually impossible for them to get back to their feet.
I’m amazed by how open and friendly this man is, but he seems frank and honest and genuinely seems to care that the horses aren’t stopping as they should.
Then we set off on the road — across the Czech border and on into Slovakia. In the Czech Republic we pass an empty horse truck heading to Poland — the sight of them is beginning to chill me.
The long journey
It’s 9.30pm and we’ve been in the car for more than 12 hours. I’m bored, tired and want to stretch my legs, but it’s still two hours’ drive until the hotel in Hungary. But how can I complain? The horses have probably started out and will spend twice this time standing on a lorry, not knowing when they’ll stop.
Log on tomorrow (Saturday 2 August) for part three of Abigail’s diary