Opinion Former Article

RSPCA: Charities predict a winter of discontent for horses

6,000 horses and ponies ‘at risk’

Horse welfare charities are calling for government and public help in a landmark report 6,000* horses at risk.

The report, ‘On the Verge:  the approaching Equine Crisis in England and Wales’, also predicts that another harsh winter will leave animal charities physically unable to cope and asks what will happen to the increasing numbers of horses being abandoned or suffering from welfare.

The charities are asking the public to rehome more horses; for horse owners to take responsibility for their animals and not pass the problem onto local authorities, charities and landowners; and for the Government and other agencies to meet us halfway and help rein in this problem before another winter of misery for hundreds of horses and ponies.

All the organisations have seen increasing numbers:

  The RSPCA took in more than twice the number of horses, 304, between April 2011 and March 2012 as it did the previous year.

  World Horse Welfare has seen the numbers of horses taken into its centres rise by 50% from 129 in 2006 to 194 in 2011 and has had to restrict admissions to the most severe cases.

  Redwings has seen a 28 per cent increase in equines being taken in from 2006 to 2011 and has seen abandonments rise from 160 in 2009 to 450 in 2011.

  Last winter HorseWorld saw a threefold increase in the number of abandoned and neglected horses it rescued, compared with the previous year.

Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare said:  “The organisations are already at breaking point with a severe shortage of available places and we are aware of an additional 6,000 horses which could be at risk over the winter. 

“These are all groups of horses that are on the edge of becoming welfare concerns, either because their owners are struggling to look after them or because they are not getting the care they need and ownership is unclear.  We could not cope if even a fraction of this number needed to be rescued.

“We are urging members of the public who can offer a horse a home to please do so now.”

Nicolas de Brauwere, Head of Welfare at Redwings Horse Sanctuary and Chairman of the National Equine Welfare Council, said: "It is an extremely serious state of affairs. In February this year, for example, we had a situation where a group of more than 60 horses and ponies that had been left to fend for themselves in Wales were facing euthanasia by the local authority which had found itself in an impossible situation through the irresponsible actions of a callous owner.  On that occasion several charities stepped up at the last moment and offered them a home, but we had to stretch ourselves and our teams to the limit to do so. 

“Another case like that may be the final straw, which is why we urgently need the help and support of both the public and the government as this winter approaches.  Absolutely no one wants to see horses put to sleep but local authorities may be faced with some very difficult decisions if the situation does not improve.”


Horses are still being bred on a large scale and continue to be imported from Ireland and the continent, despite there being no market for them.  This has led to the market becoming saturated, with animals being sold at some markets for as little as £5.

Economic climate

Horses can cost up to £100 per week to look after and in the current financial climate, people try to cut back on vet costs, hoof care and feed.  This inevitably leads to welfare problems.

Both factors have led to a visible increase in the problem of fly grazing – illegal grazing of horses on public and private land.  Fly grazing is a problem for farmers, landowners and local authorities, and increasingly it is leading to welfare concerns, as too often these owners do not provide basic care for their animals.

RSPCA head of public affairs, David Bowles, said:  “We have a perfect storm of horses continuing to be bred and imported to the UK adding to a rising population and people, suffering under the economic climate, cutting back on animal care bills.

“People need to start realising that there is very little financial reward in breeding horses and ponies, especially where there is poor husbandry or the animals have genetic problems.  You won’t make your fortune, all you will have is lots of horses and animals on your hands which need feeding, shelter and care and which you will not be able to sell.”

What the Government and public can do:

  The Government should introduce criminal legislation targeting fly grazing – punishing offenders with fines and seizure of horses

  Introduce legislation or mechanisms to better link horses to owners to tackle irresponsible ownership

  Increased intelligence-led enforcement of horse imports and exports

  Review the Tripartite agreement** that allows the import and export of vulnerable horses and ponies into and out of Britain from Ireland and France

  Encourage responsible breeding through guidance and education

  More assistance for local authorities including provision of places to keep horses on a temporary basis

  Improve enforcement and cooperation between enforcement agencies and charities

  The horse owning public can play an important part in rehoming horses and ponies, and keeping on top of their own situations

  If horse owners need help, please contact the charities for advice before their situation escalates into a welfare problem.

If you think you could give a good new home to a horse or pony you can view the horses available for rehoming on the websites below. 

Members of the public can also write to their MP and ask them to lobby the Secretary of State Owen Paterson about the national horse crisis and ask him to support tougher laws to encourage responsible ownership and improve enforcement.




Notes to editors

There will be a photocall at 11am on Monday 15 October at Victoria Gardens, Westminster featuring horses grazing against the backdrop of Parliament.

* World Horse Welfare estimates that there could be 6,540 horses at risk this winter.  Regional breakdowns of the 6,000 horses are available on request from World Horse Welfare.

**The agreement between France, Ireland and the UK which allows the free movement of horses between these countries without the need for health certification (with the exception of those intended for slaughter).

The National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) is a membership organisation for over sixty horse charities and welfare organisations and details of how to rehome a horse from any of its members can be found at http://www.newc.co.uk/

You can also find out more about rehoming a horse at:






Please note the charities always try to find the right homes for their horses and your application will be assessed for suitability.

Media contacts:

HorseWorld – Richard Wyatt richard.wyatt@horseworld.org.uk 01275 893026/ 07745 840718

World Horse Welfare – Suzanne Hunt suzannehunt@worldhorsewelfare.org 01953 497248/ 07824 302640 Jessica Stark jessicastark@worldhorsewelfare.org 07900 994002

Blue Cross – Sarah Shephard 01986 784562

Redwings – Nicola Markwell nmarkwell@redwings.co.uk 01508 481014/ 07920 291333 or Amy Claridge amy@precursor.co.uk 01522 698698

British Horse Society – Alison Coleman a.coleman@bhs.org.uk 02476 840463

RSPCA - press@rspca.org.uk 0300 123 0244/ 0288

More Articles by RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) ...

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