Equine welfare charities are appealing for people to help rehome the increasing number of horses coming into their care.
Redwings have accepted more than 100 horses and ponies in 2009 so far — more than double the 38 recorded last year. In 2007 the figure was just 15.
World Horse Welfare have experienced an increase in numbers too — which they believe is due to several multi-horse rescues this year, plus a drop in rehoming applications.
So far in 2009 World Horse Welfare has rehomed 43 horses — down on the 62 rehomed in the same period last year.
Although the charities cannot determine exactly why more rescues have been made this year, Redwings are attributing the rise to a number of factors including the current economic climate and the bad winter weather.
Redwings head of welfare Nicolas De Brauwere said: “There is no doubt that this past winter has been much more difficult for horses than in previous years.
“Food has been scarce, ponies have experienced severe cold and this harsher climate also means they become more susceptible to disease. Whereas in a milder winter these equines may have just scraped by, this year they have really suffered.
“Many of the new arrivals have experienced a lack of even basic care, such as food and water, so they were in desperate need of our help.”
The centre also believes that its part in several large welfare investigations this year, as well as its work with the RSPCA, has raised public awareness of the charity and increased the number of people approaching it for help.
Both charities also believe that the change to the Animals Act has had an effect on numbers of rescued horses.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: “There has been a marked increase in the number of multi-horse rescues we have taken in this year.
“While it may be easy to assume that this is down to the current financial situation, we are finding that legislation brought in with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 has enabled many more horses to be removed from situations of neglect than before.”
When the Animal Welfare Act was introduced in April 2007, it gave authorities the power to remove animals from situations where they were likely to suffer rather than wait until unnecessary suffering had actually taken place.
“The Animal Welfare Act is a hugely positive step for horse welfare,” said Mr Owers. “But in the current economic climate we are facing a problem. There has been much speculation in the press that large numbers of horses and ponies are being abandoned or put to sleep because of the credit crunch.
“It is still too early to tell, and there is little evidence to suggest that this is happening in large numbers, but we are finding that people are less inclined to take on the expense of having a horse and we have seen our rehoming figures drop dramatically.
“All four of our UK recovery and rehabilitation centres are at capacity and we have to ensure that we have the space to take in the most needy horses. At the moment we have over 60 ridden and non-ridden horses and ponies ready to be rehomed and I would encourage anyone looking for a horse to contact World Horse Welfare.”
Redwings currently has more than 1,000 horses on site, and another 500 out at ‘guardian homes’.
Mr De Brauwere said: “A good number of the intake are quite young and now have a long life expectancy, but we are fully prepared for that and it is possible some will be rehomed through our Guardianship Scheme, which is still buoyant. To rescue equines who face a grim future is why we exist, and why our supporters are so generous so we must acknowledge the public’s kindness.”
Visit: www.redwings.co.uk and www.worldhorsewelfare.org