In the wake of recent controversial comments by the World Horse Welfare charity concerning the possible sale of horse meat in supermarkets as a means of ensuring that unwanted equines are better cared for by their owners, it has now been suggested that abandoned horses and ponies are likely to be ‘culled’ this winter.
In the UK there is a big problem with ponies and horses being left to fend for themselves on empty land including grass roundabouts in urban areas; grass verges or brown-site fields and even building sites. Fly-grazing, as the practice is known, has become worse recently because of the economic downturn. It’s simply cheaper for the predominantly gypsy owners of the animals to abandon them on other people’s land where the grazing is effectively ‘free’. The gypsies then move on leaving their horses unsupervised and uncared for until they return months later. Deaths and injuries among the animals are commonplace and the RSPCA and other horse charities are frequently called upon to rescue horses and ponies which have come to harm.
Often animals are left tethered for months at a time often without water within reach and injuries are sustained from tether chains or from roaming land littered with discarded rubbish, wire or even toxic waste. There have been several cases of fly-grazed horses breaking through damaged fencing in search of better grass only to wander onto main roads and being struck by vehicles.
WHW and DEFRA have both appealed to the government, to fast-track legislation authorizing local authorities to seize fly-grazed horses ‘on the spot’ but thus far this has fallen on deaf ears. Legislation is due to become enforceable in Wales in January next year which will allow local authorities to seize abandoned animals on private or public land without permission. The animals must be claimed by the owner within seven days. Failure to do so may result in euthanasia.
It is debatable that such legislation will actually solve the problem and will merely tackle the symptom, rather than the disease itself. The issue is really that of overbreeding. There are simply too many horses and ponies and supply is drastically outstripping demand.
In Bristol and South Wales, Anti-social Behaviour Orders have been successfully issued against persistent fly-grazers and in one incidence, Welsh gypsy cob breeder, Tom Price was jailed for breaching his ASBO and for committing welfare offences resulting in over one hundred horses having to be euthanized on welfare grounds.
It is estimated that there are in excess of 7,000 unwanted horses and ponies at risk this winter in the UK and most of the charities are already full with no further capacity. The RSPCA has appealed for experienced foster homes for their horses to allow for more unwanted animals to be rescued.
If you are in a position to help, check out this link.