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Horse owners are being warned by equine bodies and the Highways Agency (HA) to check boundaries and ensure their animals have enough forage this winter following a spate of loose horses on the road that have caused traffic chaos and equine fatalities.

Horse owners are also reminded that under the Animals Act 1971 they are liable for their animals’ actions should they cause an accident.

Alison Smith from the HA said: “The majority of those [horses] apprehended are healthy, and are removed from the network by ourselves with assistance from police, owners or local farmers.

“Injured horses can become more distressed the longer they remain on the roadside.”

H&H online has reported eight incidents since October in which horses have strayed on to the road, resulting in 10 equine fatalities.

And with hedges bare of leaves, many are finding it easier to get out of their fields.

Ms Smith said: “Landowners can assist in reducing the number of stray animals by regularly checking and repairing their boundary fences and reporting any damage to fences owned by the HA so our contractors can make repairs.”

At the start of December, in particular, a spate of deaths was recorded, including two in the New Forest (1-3 December), one on the A414 in Hertfordshire (4 December), one on the A19 Hartlepool (9 December) and two in Co Antrim (10 December).

In other incidents, horses have been rounded up uninjured after straying, but have caused traffic havoc for drivers.

On 9 December, six horses escaped on to a sliproad of the A127, resulting in the road closing for several hours. They were returned to their field but less than four hours later the same horses were found again on the same stretch of road.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police told H&H: “It is thought that the horses twice escaped on to the road through faulty fencing.”

H&H has reported other incidents where straying horses have got into trouble on a quest for food.

There have been three separate cases recently where hungry equines have fallen into swimming pools — the most recent being Horse of the Year Show pony Cardells Maximillion (news, 11 December).

Lee Hackett, senior welfare executive at the British Horse Society, said: “We are hearing about more incidents than usual. Horse owners should check all field boundaries regularly— ideally they should be given a quick once-over every day and checked more thoroughly weekly.

“It may also be necessary for them to put in a second fenceline as natural boundaries are likely to be much barer during the winter making it possible for horses to stray.

“It might also be an idea to padlock field gates to act as a belt and braces approach to keeping the horse in. But, if you do this, you must consider how the emergency services would get in if needed.”

The latest figures from the HA suggest there are around 200 stray horse incidents a year.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (25 December, ’08)