The findings of the Horse & Hound great crime survey have shown that equine crime is big business. But who is doing the thieving, and how much property is ever returned to its rightful owners? And if it isn’t recovered, where does this mountain of gear go?
Because horseboxes and trailers are categorised with stolen vehicles, and tack with stolen property, it is impossible to ascertain from police statistics how much is recovered. According to our survey, less than 10% of theft victims had ever set eyes on their stolen property again, and only half of those who had come across it had succeeded in claiming it back.
One reader watched her stolen box travelling down the motorway in the opposite lane but has not seen it since. A Malvern-based breeder says she knows who keeps her 10 horses that were stolen more than four years ago and is suing the police for incompetence.
One victim of theft from south Buckinghamshire made his own enquiries following a police bungle when lorries with a combined value of more than £1⁄4million disappeared within a month in his area, and came within a whisker of getting his box back.
Examples of property recovered include tack found at auctions by police, trailers discovered at travellers’ sites, rugs reclaimed from horses’ backs, a lorry tracked down on the M20, a horsebox with a tracker found in a barn and a box discovered by its owner, stripped bare, at a travellers’ site.
One-third of theft victims believed they knew who had taken property. One Wiltshire woman was burgled, she told H&H, by neighbours, and an effective security measure she took afterwards was: “I got word to perpetrators that I knew it was them.”
Livery clients, the parent of a beginner child at a riding school, fellow competitors at shows, people viewing a horse for sale and “men in a white van” have all been suspected or proven thieves. However, the majority of victims who suspected a perpetrator named “travellers”. Many, too, said that police had remarked it was “probably travellers” and that they therefore could not do anything.
We did hear some positive stories of people who have thwarted the thieves. Of the 35% of respondents who had never been burgled, some have perhaps just been lucky. But several prove that high security works.
One ex-policewoman, who lives on an isolated property in Lincolnshire, has CCTV, locks and lighting, plus six German Shepherd dogs and a Rottweiler who run loose all day and night. Her horses are microchipped and freeze branded. The postcode is on the roof of her trailer — “my partner flies the police helicopter so he can look for it!” Her tack is marked and she keeps a record of serial numbers.
“I know what does and doesn’t work,” she says. “Take tack home. Always block trailers and lorries in using other vehicles; tow locks are absolutely useless.”