Record year for rehoming but concerns over future of horse demand

  • Welfare charities have reported a record-breaking year for rehoming, but concerns have been shared on what lies ahead if current demand for horses slows down in the coming year.

    The horse-buying market has continued to boom in 2021, but charities warn this could bring future welfare challenges.

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said there is “no doubt the market remains buoyant” but that it would be “foolhardy” not to recognise the challenges that lie ahead.

    “This includes our concerns around the fate of horses that might have been missold or are simply not fit for purpose, as all too often these equines enter into a downward spiral of frequently changing hands at ever-decreasing value, ending up as welfare cases,” he told H&H.

    RSPCA equine welfare expert Mark Kennedy told H&H the charity shares these concerns and is worried the current high demand for horses and ponies will drop over time.

    “Any economic downturn, pandemic-driven or otherwise, which reduces household incomes and ability to care properly for equines, along with the activity of irresponsible breeders believing in a perpetually buoyant market for horses, could easily return us to the situation of oversupply of horses and ponies without good homes to go to,” he said.

    “This would return us to ‘Britain’s horse problem’; the abandonment, neglect and suffering which has plagued equines and welfare charities for years. One piece of good news that might help address this is Defra’s commitment to review of the equine identification regulations [news, 21 October], which might improve their effectiveness in tying abandoned and neglected horses to those responsible for them.”

    The charities have reported “many positives” to come out of 2021 including court cases delayed by Covid concluding, and increased rehoming figures. World Horse Welfare has rehomed 350 equines, Redwings 126, and the RSPCA more than 300 this year.

    “Our rehoming success has been thanks, in part, to the conclusion of several large prosecution cases, where we had taken in dozens of horses and ponies who were still on our farms up to two years later while the cases were resolved,” said Mr Owers, adding that World Horse Welfare is in a “good position” heading into 2022, but the charity is not seeing any “let-up” in the welfare need, including cases involving large numbers of equines.

    Redwings’ Lynn Cutress said the charity is “heartened” to see that people continued to look towards charities to rehome horses during the pandemic.

    “For the first time this year we are on course to rehome one horse for every horse we rescue. As a sanctuary that has been operating at capacity for many years, one of the most important ways we can help more horses is to try to make space through rehoming, so this is an exceptional achievement by our teams. We hope even more people will support the rehoming efforts of registered charities next year,” she told H&H.

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