The RSPCA is warning that a financial recession could plunge the country into a second wave of the equine crisis which has already led to thousands of dumped and dying horses and crippled welfare charities. The charity has been called about more than 2,000 equine incidents during lockdown, sparking fears that more sick horses will be dumped across England & Wales
In 2019, the charity received reports of more than 21,000 incidents involving horses and by the end of the year it had nearly 900 in its care, leaving its rescue centres full and funding hundreds more in private boarding.
Since lockdown, the RSPCA has received more than 2000 reports about horses but fears much worse is to come if, as expected, the Covid crisis sparks a UK and global recession.
Equine welfare charities are already under immense strain, following the horse crisis which was sparked off by the 2008 financial crash and the sector is extremely concerned about the welfare repercussions for horses in the months ahead with an estimated 7,000 horses* at risk of suffering.
The RSPCA is appealing for vital donations to help it prepare for an influx of horses and ponies desperately in need of help.
Christine McNeil, the charity’s National Equine Inspectors Co-Ordinator said: “This is a truly worrying time for equine charities - we still haven’t got a handle on the repercussions of the current horse crisis, and it now looks like the worst is yet to come.
“In April 2011, before the effects of the financial recession had been felt, the RSPCA had 290 horses in its care, already more than our official stables could house. The following year, the impact of the crisis really began to hit and our officers were called out every day up and down the country to neglected and abandoned horses. By May 2012, the number of horses in our care had leapt to 600. Fast-forward to today, and we’re caring for 927 horses - that’s three times the amount since the crisis hit, and we strongly fear that the impact will be even worse this time round.
“With such a huge number of horses in our care, and so many in private boarding, at great cost, we have already had to adapt how we try to help as many horses as we can. For example, several ‘herds’ of horses in need are being cared for in situ with our officers visiting regularly to feed and care for them, until we can find spaces in one of our centres for them, or funds to transport them to private boarding. Our Sussex-based animal collection officer (ACO) Julie Parsons was a great example of this when she was traveling each day to check on a group of neglected Shetland ponies. Thankfully now the herd is being cared for at one of our animal centres.”
The current horse crisis is thought to have been triggered by continued overbreeding, coupled with falling demand for some types of horses, which left a surplus of unwanted animals which have been left dumped like rubbish, sometimes extremely sick or dying, leaving equine charities bursting at the seams with these abandoned animals.
Threats of a financial recession this year has led to fears that irresponsible horse breeders will continue to breed their animals in a bid to turn a quick profit and that existing horse owners will struggle financially to keep their animals and cover vet bills. This may lead to animals suffering, and some may even resort to abandoning their animals out of desperation.
Between March-May 2020, during the lockdown period, the charity has received reports of 2,116 incidents relating to horses alone, with high numbers of calls coming from regional ‘hotspots' such as West Yorkshire, Kent, Surrey, Durham, Greater London and Hampshire.
Among these was a dying foal who was tragically discovered by walkers (pictured top.) She had been cruelly abandoned on a footpath in Wakefield, thought to have been dragged off the back of a vehicle and left for dead. The foal had wounds on her body and face which were infested with maggots, and she was very thin and clearly malnourished. The inspector was called by shocked dog walkers who found the suffering pony. He called a vet immediately, but sadly, she couldn’t be saved.
Another young pony was discovered collapsed in a field close to Darenth Park Avenue, Gravesend in February. The RSPCA was called after passers-by noticed the pony had collapsed. RSPCA Inspector Kirsten Ormerod arrived to find the poor pony was dehydrated, riddled with worms and extremely thin. Thankfully, Kirsten was able to call for help just in time, and with the help of local police and a vet, the pony was rescued from the location and taken into care. Nicknamed Darren, he has made a slow but steady recovery during the past three months, but with no microchip, and no owners having come forward to claim him, it is presumed Darren was abandoned.
Kirsten said: “Sadly, this pony’s story is not unusual, but I’m relieved little Darren could be saved. It’s unthinkable that people so regularly abandon horses and ponies that are so sick, leaving charities like the RSPCA to pick up the pieces. The team who have been helping Darren recover at one of our private boarding yards have done a wonderful job nursing him back to health. We hope that once Darren is fully recovered, we can find him a loving new home, but as he is one of more than 900 in our care, sadly we know it may not be easy and may take a while.”
The RSPCA has taken in 82 horses during lockdown already**, bringing the total number of horses in the charity’s care to 927. This figure is much more than the charity can care for at its own centres, forcing the charity to pay for three quarters of horses to be housed at private boarding stables.
The charity spends approximately £5200 per year for the care of each horse taken in - that’s over £4.8 million each year.
The RSPCA has been working alongside the Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, British Horse Society, Redwings, The Donkey Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare, in a bid to tackle this national crisis. Many of these charities have seen their income plummet while still continuing to look after the horses in their care.
Equine organisations have also been hit by the difficulty of rehoming under the present restrictions. Rehoming only restarted in mid April in England, and in May in Wales, but horses represent one of the biggest challenges of all rescued animals to rehome, because of the difficulty of doing so whilst respecting social distancing, and while equine centres remain closed to the public. Despite these difficulties, the RSPCA has managed to rehome 21 horses in the ten weeks since lockdown - this compares to 56 in January and February.
Christine added: “The public’s help is absolutely vital to keep the RSPCA afloat during this extremely difficult time. We can’t stress how much we need loving homes for our horses and ponies, and we are urging those with experience of horses to please consider rehoming one of our wonderful rescue horses. Last year (2019), we rehomed 242 horses and ponies to loving new homes, with many going on to become superb children’s riding ponies, happy hacking horses, fantastic project youngsters, and wonderful retired companions.”
To help the RSPCA keep rescuing horses, providing them with essential veterinary care, rehabilitation, and finding them new homes through these unprecedented times, please donate whatever you can spare at www.rspca.org.uk/covid