Riders’ heartbreak as government ‘leaves horses to starve’

  • Top riders are adding their voices to calls for the Dutch government to save thousands of “starving” horses and other animals.

    Britain’s Fiona Bigwood and Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands are among those speaking out on behalf of the equines, deer and cattle kept in a large nature reserve in coastal province Flevoland, while Charlotte Dujardin has also called for action.

    The site is reclaimed marshland and those campaigning on its inhabitants’ behalf say it is not suitable to support the large number of animals living on it.

    “I just can’t sit back and do nothing when these animals are starving,” Rio Olympics team silver medallist Fiona Bigwood, who has been alerting people to the animals’ plight, told H&H.

    “The Dutch are desperate to help them but they’re being arrested and fined if they try to feed them.

    “It’s heartbreaking; we can’t just let animals starve to death in this day and age.”

    Local campaigner Cynthia Danvers told H&H the reserve covers thousands of acres but much of this is water. It was enclosed in the early 1980s, after which horses, cattle and deer were introduced.

    “And of course they’ve multiplied so there are thousands now,” she said.

    “[Officials] have killed 3,000 animals in the past three months because they were starving to death. They won’t let people give them more food because they say it’s nature.

    “The winter here hasn’t been that bad but the ground’s salty and bad, and there are too many animals. They even started eating bark from the trees but now there’s nothing left.

    “There are a lot of people in Holland who don’t want them to starve so they started coming to bring them hay – then the government started arresting people for it and fining them.

    “They said if we feed them, they will feel better and breed, and then there will be more animals, but for lots of people, that’s a very strange thing to say.”

    A petition has been launched calling for the Dutch government to make changes.

    Cynthia said that after sustained campaigning, and meetings with the provincial government, officials did start giving the animals some hay.

    “They didn’t want to but we made them,” she said. “But it’s not enough. People are still trying to feed them but they’re building more fences.

    “Money isn’t a problem – lots of farmers said they’d donate hay – but the province said it wasn’t good enough. They said nature should do its work, but how can it be nature when there’s a fence stopping the animals going anywhere?”

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    Cynthia said the government agreed to feed hay until the grass comes through.

    “But then this will happen again next year,” she said. “They have to take these animals out of there. It’s horrible and it has to change.”

    H&H has contacted the Dutch government for a response.

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