You only have to turn on the local news or log onto social media, and you are hit with a very sad story of an abandoned horse found emaciated, or worse, dead in a ditch covered in yesterday’s rubbish!
It is an image that is very hard to swallow for horse lovers and fanatics, but one we see too often. Unfortunately, abandonment is on the rise and it is not, in some cases, quite as clear cut as you may think. In some cases, due to the economic climate, low wages, high prices of rent and stabling, and lack of knowledge, horses are ‘turfed’ out to face the world alone.
It is tragic, but as a community, sometimes we cannot offer support to one and another. If someone feels the only hope their horse has, would be to abandon it and hope it is picked up by the correct authorities, it would all begin to sound like a cataclysmic soap opera ending.
In some cases, the abandonment takes place simply because the horse was bred. Excuses of wrong confirmation are given, such as - “It was the youngest colt”, “I didn’t want a colt”, “I only put three mares in foal, I expected one to take, and all three have”. Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of what you hear when it comes to breeding. Breeding any horse within the UK is unregulated. Anyone can breed; you don’t need a licence or a card. If you woke up tomorrow and said, “I think I am going to breed my mare”, and your mare was all ready to go, then boom…you would have a baby foal in 11 - 12 months, cooked and prepared! Whilst this may seem a fantasy to some, it is a reality, and over-breeding is still on the rise. With horses going for as little as £5 at the market, the fate of these overbred horses and ponies is bleak.
The ‘Think Before You Breed’ campaign was launched in 2010 by the British Horse Society to help raise awareness of the plight. The movement was put in place to support owners and breeders and to encourage them to make the right decision. Figures estimate there are around 12,000 – 13,000 horses in the care of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC), with cases of welfare having a small increase compared to that of neglect and abandonment.
Research has indicated that, although the economic climate has an impact, this is due to issues such as poor-quality bred horses and a lack of understanding when it comes to genetics, with some horses being bred with congenital problems. As horse owners, and people within the horse community, is it time we took a moral responsibility? Should we work towards regulating a breeding program and push for its success? The fact of the matter is, we all need to look at the facts and ask ourselves the same basic questions – “Why do we need to breed from our horse?”, “Who will benefit from this?”, “Am I insured to do so?”, “Do I have the relevant knowledge, and a knowledge of genetics and genetic diseases to help the animal have the best quality of life?”, and “What will happen to that foal and the life after?”.
In 2010, it was classified as a crisis, and now eight years on when nothing really has changed, we should be crying out for help. Unfortunately, nothing will change until we as a community call for a solution and band together. Till that day, our sanctuaries and welfare councils will continue to be stretched, strained, underfunded, overworked, and the horrific pictures will still be seen.