We are all responsible for fixing ‘broken system’ that allows horses to suffer *H&H Plus*

  • Leading UK equine welfare charities have created a report looking into what can no longer be called a horse crisis, as it has become the norm. They have also made recommendations on how to resolve the problems. H&H finds out more

    SEVEN welfare charities have joined forces to report on the “dire state” of the UK’s horse crisis – and offer solutions to the “broken system” that has caused it.

    World Horse Welfare, Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, British Horse Society, Horseworld, Redwings and the RSPCA published the report, Britain’s Horse Problem, which highlights the fact more responsible ownership, rules and enforcement are needed to “break the cycle of suffering”.

    It states that the situation in England and Wales can no longer be described as a horse “crisis”, as it has been persistent for so long, arising after the 2008 financial crisis and continuing unabated. Reports in 2012 and 2013 set out the situation, along with recommendations of actions the public, Government, agencies and charities should take to address it.

    “While equine charities have taken in thousands of horses each year since these reports were published, horses are being put at risk at least at the same pace as we are collectively able to rescue them,” reads this month’s report.

    “Like trying to drain a bath with the taps still on, no matter how much water escapes down the drain, the water level remains unchanged.”

    The report states that work must start now on reforming the system if we are to learn from history; the recession expected as a result of the coronavirus is “likely to cause the welfare ‘bath’ to overflow”.

    The report covers the way the pandemic has affected welfare charities and is expected to create significantly more issues, at a time when charities are least able to cope with them, “against a backdrop of a ‘broken system’ which allows thousands of horses to become at risk of suffering each year”.

    Entrepreneur and rescue horse owner Deborah Meaden said: “Issues such as overbreeding, neglect, accidental breeding and the ever-rising cost of keeping a horse have all combined to create the perfect storm for the equine world.

    “We all need to pull together to help the plight of vulnerable horses, ponies and donkeys who will fall victim to the new layer of problems the equine world faces in the months and years to come. I think it is all our responsibility to care and help these animals whether we are horse owners or not.”

    The reports sets out progress in the past six years, such as the introduction of the Control of Horses Act and changes to equine ID laws. There has been more investment in human behaviour change-related approaches by welfare charities, and organisations are taking a multi-agency approach to welfare.

    But members of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) take in more than 2,000 horses every year. Space is limited and some smaller charities have either folded or merged with larger organisations.

    The report states that inadequate enforcement of legislation is partly to blame for the situation, as this allows abusers to offend “systematically”. It adds that if new equine ID legislation is properly enforced, which it has not been in the past, this could go a long way towards fixing the system. The Animal Welfare Act must also be better enforced, the report authors believe – Defra estimates that 111 of 343 local authorities have no animal welfare inspectors, partly because councils have never had any funding specifically for enforcing the Act.

    Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, which led the coalition producing the report, said: “With such a challenging winter ahead, now is the time to highlight to the public and Government that we see a grim equine welfare storm brewing, and that we urgently need support to cope with it.

    “It is as important as ever to better tackle the root causes of this systemic scourge and change the system to better protect horses and to truly hold owners to account.”

    Horse owners and the public are also asked to consider their own responsibilities when caring for their animals or giving to rescue charities.

    “If you are struggling with horse ownership, reach out to a charity who may be able to help offer support and guidance before the problem spirals out of control,” Mr Owers said.

    “We also urge members of the public to give to reputable welfare charities this winter but do your homework. Is the rescue organisation a genuine charity? Do they meet basic welfare standards for the animals they care for? A little consideration before you give can make sure you have the impact you want.”

    The report states that owners must recognise the situation, and their role in it, and that welfare organisations should develop educational campaigns to improve care of horses.

    It also recommends mandatory licensing of animal welfare establishments, and of breeders, dealers and livery yards.

    “Everyone is responsible for fixing the broken system behind poor equine welfare in Britain,” it concludes. “Including owners, breeders, dealers, Government, landowners, local authorities, equine vets and rescue organisations.”

    H&H 24 December 2020

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