“Firstly I have to point out that those who know nothing about horses (aside from riding them) shouldn’t bloody buy or own one; unless they first do a proper course at an agricultural college on Horse & Pasture Management etc. I did when I was age 17 & although I thought I knew it all, the course showed I knew very little; aside from how to ride! Horse prices have dropped so at the moment horses are very cheap, meaning anyone could be easily tempted to buy one; but it’s not just about having land to keep it on, there are many many cost’s involved so one must ensure they can pay for the horses upkeep!”
” I’ve said this before & will keep on saying it; certain horse owners breed them, because that’s their means of income, from travellers to racehorses; but it the horse that pays the price when they either don’t make the grade at racing, or can’t be sold at auction, other than to a killer buyer! All this indiscriminate breeding has meant many horses are either dying of hunger because their owners can’t afford to feed them hard food & hay; a horse needs more than just grass! Then there are those that don’t have their own pastures so think nothing about fly grazing their horses on public or council land.”
“Some are in such a bad state they are on their way to slaughter, most of which come from breeders who just don’t bloody care!”
By LIZ JONES COLUMN PUBLISHED: 00:56, 2 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33, 2 March 2014
She was obviously loved, once. A chestnut mare with a sweet disposition who seems to have a radar to detect the Polo mints in my pocket.
She’s wearing an expensive rug, only now it’s ripped and tangled around her legs. Her coat is worn white where the rug has slipped and rubbed.
Her mane and tail are dreadlocks, entangled with twigs. The ground is sodden, due to the recent flooding, but as I stand with this mare I might as well be in Ethiopia, or some other Third World country where horses roam, abandoned, often starving, rather than where I am: an industrial wasteland in Avonmouth, near Bristol.
I’m with an officer from World Horse Welfare whose job it is not just to monitor horses abandoned here in North Somerset, but in Wiltshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire and South Wales: no wonder he looks exhausted.
I ask if I can take off the chestnut’s rug to free her and avoid terrible sores, but he tells me no. The red tape that enmeshes animal welfare officers is almost as confining as the straps around the mare’s legs.
The officer tells me I cannot mention his name, either, for fear of alienating the travellers who control these wastelands and wage fierce turf wars. He tells me he gets a lot of ‘verbal abuse’.
But this horse doesn’t look like a traveller’s horse: she’s too fine, not a stocky, coloured cob that is the traveller norm. Her owners have obviously spotted this grazing group, and simply added her to the pile.
She is just one more addition to the estimated 7,000 horses currently at large, abandoned by owners who can no longer afford to keep them – and it seems that unwanted family pets have now joined these roaming herds of so-called ‘gipsy’ animals.
Horses, for whatever reason – whether they buck off their young owners or cost too much in vet fees and feed – can often enter a downward spiral. Sold again and again, they are eventually picked up by dealers for as little as £5, and sent for slaughter. Many owners perhaps feel that leaving a horse to fend for itself is a better option.
It’s a huge issue that has been overlooked for years. But now, in an economic and environmental crisis, where flooded land means there is less to go round for grazing, it’s one we can no longer ignore.
I’m patron of Equine Market Watch, a small rescue centre in Herefordshire. We took in two colts abused by a local trader, Mark Hall, from Bringsty, who in September was jailed for ‘immense cruelty’ to 18 horses.
Elaine Tasker, the amazing woman who runs the charity, said: ‘Calls come in every day from people who simply cannot cope any more: they have lost their job, or got divorced.
‘We used to get three calls a day. Now we get seven or eight. I’ve had so many people in tears over ponies that have been in the family a long time.’
Elaine says too many people just don’t notice the animals in sodden, barren fields or wandering, desperately in search of food, on wasteland.
‘They drive past places where hungry animals stand in mud and they just don’t care,’ she laments. ‘The time is approaching when a nationwide cull will be the only way to get the equine population under control.
It seems shameful and shocking that in a horse-loving nation, there is a herd of perhaps 40 horses fly-grazing here at Avonmouth, a few hundred yards from the roaring M49.
Most of the mares are heavily pregnant, still suckling last year’s foals. There is no shelter from the
elements, meaning lovely heads are bowed against the biting wind, their backs covered in the skin disease rain scald. All the horses are thin – the poor grass is woefully insufficient.
These animals need hay and supplementary hard feed. Their feet are neglected and painful, forcing many to totter uncertainly.
The sight is repeated right across the country, as The Mail on Sunday has highlighted in recent weeks, with increasing numbers of animals, including pregnant mares and foals, being abandoned everywhere from Norfolk and Kent to South Wales.
The RSPCA in England took in 1,526 equines (horses, ponies, donkeys and mules) last year, a staggering 69 per cent increase over 2012.
Redwings horse sanctuary, based in Norfolk, says that in 2009 it had 161 reports of abandoned horses, but in 2013 there were 806.
In January, the sanctuary was alerted to an abandoned cob in the Romford area of Essex, a county that is something of a hotspot for abandoned equines. She was so thin the bones in her hips and spine were visible, and she was suffering from liver damage. She had to be destroyed.
Already this year, 300 horses have been rescued from a site in South Wales, while 46 have been moved from a site in Hampshire.
The Remus Memorial horse sanctuary in Essex has been inundated since Christmas with abandoned horses. Molly, a cob with a bouffant hairdo and sweet expression, was recently found pregnant, blind and starving, staggering on a verge next to a busy road, while several horses were found grazing beside the M25.
No one seems clear what should be done. The 2006 Animal Welfare Act is woefully vague. Only if a horse is pronounced to be in a perilous state by a vet can it be seized, and then only with the assistance of the police.
Even if an animal is microchipped, trying to trace the owner is often futile. So these horses roam, some destined to be hit by cars, others to shiver, depressed and starving. My rastafarian mare seems to be wondering what on earth she did wrong to deserve such a fate.
It was normal to see horses grazing common land and wasteland before the Enclosures Acts, which became law between 1750 and 1850. These Acts denied free grazing, or what is now known as fly-grazing. Like fly-tipping, it means a horse, like a bag of rubbish, has been dumped on land without permission. The travelling community, whose history has never been to settle, use horses and ponies as currency and, having no common land for grazing, dump equines on any available patch.
This is obviously dangerous if the horses are left near roads – for animals and humans. But it’s very difficult to get the horses off these sites, even through the courts.
While my WHW officer says the travellers treat valuable horses well, it’s a different story for those used to hunt with dogs or raced on hard, unrelenting dual carriageways. I have received many accounts, from Harlow to Hull, of travellers’ horses tethered on bleak roundabouts. I’ve was told of one incident where a foal was strangled by her mother’s rope.
Animal rights group Animal Aid believes one answer to the problem is for local councils to set aside land for grazing. This could save council money and police time, and improve welfare.
Defra Minister Lord De Mauley wants new powers to seize equines, but Animal Aid’s horse consultant Dene Stansall said: ‘There is a current police effort to seize fly-grazed equines, but where do they go? To the RSPCA? Their sanctuaries are full and costing millions of pounds a year in feed and keep costs. Or to slaughter?’
All the animal charities I spoke to want ‘life plans’ for horses: the licensing of stallions, grading of all breeding mares, and even credit checks for prospective owners.
The British Equestrian Federation’s annual National Equine Forum is due to take place in London on Thursday. Nick de Brauwere, welfare director at Redwings and chairman of the National Equine Welfare Council, will press Environment Secretary Owen Paterson for action.
Whatever the outcome, the problem is now so acute that we cannot ignore it any longer. It’s a national scandal.
Horses built this country: they ploughed our fields, helped build an empire and fought for us in two world wars. Let’s not abandon them. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Don’t look the other way.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2571196/How-starving-horse-shames-middle-class-families-dumped-pet-ponies-afford-writes-LIZ-JONES.html#ixzz2vOQ4Ft6d
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