This warning comes from The British Horse Society, one of Britain’s leading horse charities. With more equine welfare officers than any other UK organisation, the Society has helped in excess of 8,000 horses in the last year but know many more to be at risk. Horses drowning in flooded fields, starving to death, riddled with worms and lice, poor or non-existent hoof care or dumped to fend for themselves may sound like something from a hundred years ago in the fields of the Somme, but sadly it is Britain in 2014.
Horses like Peggy, an emaciated black mare who was found wandering around a housing estate in Gilesgate, Durham, are tragically all too common. Peggy’s thick winter coat did little to mask how thin she was. Her hind legs were covered in faeces as a result of her dreadful diarrhoea and she was diagnosed with a particularly nasty clostridial infection and severe red worm infestation. Luckily Peggy survived, but there are countless more horses like Peggy that need help.
“The horse has long been a loyal servant to mankind and is an integral part of our heritage,” says Lee Hackett, Director of Equine Policy at The British Horse Society. “We owe him so much yet, now when he needs us, we are spectacularly failing him.”
Mr Hackett cites years of unchecked and indiscriminate breeding and the recession as among the causes of this horrific situation. “The UK is saturated with thousands of horses with little or no value and a shortage of responsible and knowledgeable owners willing to care for them,” he explains. “Together with other charities we have been doing our best to resolve the situation, but sanctuaries are now beyond full and we are facing crisis point.”
There is a glimmer of hope as the Control of Horses Wales Bill received Royal Assent recently in a bid to tackle fly grazing (illegally grazing horses on private land). The new Act has received unanimous support from the welfare sector but experts fear it will result in the problem moving over the border into England.
“We have to congratulate the Welsh Government for taking such a positive stance and listening to the welfare charities,” says Mr Hackett. “However, Westminster must take notice now. Failing to act is going to lead to more horses suffering in England and that is unacceptable. We need our politicians to be proactive, not complacent. Britain is supposed to be a nation of animal lovers.
“We are entering the Chinese Year of the Horse, let’s make it the year when we all stand together and really make a difference to British horses.”