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Record number of horses in charity’s care as virus prevents rehoming

More than 100 horses have been taken in by a welfare charity this year – as it reports the highest number in its care on record.

World Horse Welfare, which has centres in Aberdeenshire, Lancashire, Norfolk and Somerset, currently has 406 equines in its care – where normal stocking levels for the charity is around 330. In the first three months of the year the charity took in 107 horses, of which 53 were involved in prosecution cases.

A spokesman for the charity said the horses, many which had been rescued in groups over the past 12 months are being shared between the four centres.

“Caring for such a large number of animals is putting extra demands on staff, in addition to complying with the rules on social distancing and the suspension of rehoming activities in light of movement restrictions to prevent coronavirus,” he said.

World Horse Welfare deputy chief executive and director of UK welfare Tony Tyler said while the welfare of the horses is assured, providing the care they need is stretching the charity’s resources.

“Many of these animals are from large unhandled groups and so are unused to human contact, it makes handling them even more of a challenge,” he said.

“We had expected with the arrival of spring, we would be able to rehome a good bunch of them who were ready to leave us but with the government restrictions, we can’t undertake home checks or invite applicants to meet our horses. We will continue to care for all of them, while finding space where we can to take in emergency cases.”

The spokesman said while the horses in the charity’s care are receiving maintenance care, rehabilitation activities such as physiotherapy, lunging, backing and riding have been temporarily suspended to allow grooms to self-isolate if needed.

The spokesman added the large number of horses at the charity is the result of a “rising tide” of large, complex welfare cases across the country – and laws around animals seized as part of welfare prosecutions.

“Usually horses coming into us will be signed over, and can begin their journey of rehabilitation as soon as they have been checked by a team of specialists, with an ultimate goal of rehoming them,” he said.

“But when the welfare case is the subject of a prosecution, the horses are often not signed over and by law these can only be given maintenance care, so they cannot be backed or even castrated, and if the prosecution case is not successful, the animals must be returned to their owner.”

The spokesman added these cases can take a very long time to go to court.

“Sometimes two or more years – and during that time the horses are effectively ‘bed-blocking’ the limited space at the centres,” he said.

The charity’s Norfolk centre has 142 horses in its care, a third of whom are associated with prosecution cases. Its Somerset base has 96 horses, of whom 33 are involved in prosecution cases, while 50% of the 73 horses in its Lancashire site are involved in cases. The spokesman added the situation is different at the charity’s Aberdeenshire centre in Scotland, owing to different animal welfare laws that allow a case to be built during the time a charity works with an owner to try and improve the welfare of the horses.

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“If improvements are not made and the horses have to be removed, if a prosecution case is brought it is a much quicker process,” said the spokesman. “Because of this, Belwade Farm in Aberdeenshire has 92 horses in at the moment, of which just five are part of ongoing prosecutions.”

Zoe Clifford, who works at the charity’s Penny Farm in Lancashire, said the number of horses involved in a case are getting larger.

“When I first started at World Horse Welfare, a large case would be three to four, now some of these cases are coming in with 30 to 40 animals at one time,” she said.

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