In another example of how indiscriminate breeding is fuelling the horse crisis, World Horse Welfare rescued almost 60 horses this weekend from poor conditions after the situation at a Surrey owner and breeder’s premises spiralled out of control.
At her peak last year a lady owned approximately 120 equines and a herd of over 20 breeding lamas, angora goats, rheas, pigs and geese.
World Horse Welfare was called by Hampshire Trading Standards and the Donkey Sanctuary to assist with a case of sheer overpopulation in Surrey. The lady had lost control of her situation, leading to more and more foals being born year after year – including mules within a herd of Poitou Donkies.
Every year new foals added to a herd that never received handling, only exacerbating the already out of control breeding problem as male youngsters reached sexual maturity and started producing more foals with the mares.
The problem began in 2002 with a herd of just 14 horses. The lady then decided to bring in 10 others to start a breeding program. Unfortunately, as the charity is increasingly seeing during this tough economic climate, the owner’s personal circumstances changed which led to her struggling with the financial and everyday responsibility of the growing herd. The owner of the animals did make some attempts to stop the breeding by having many of the stallions gelded – but not all, so the breeding continued.
This inevitably led to a number of welfare problems, particularly where the mares were concerned, as the mares were perpetually in foal and as no animals were weaned, a mare would often be found in foal, with a foal at foot and her previous year’s foal still in the family group.
World Horse Welfare Field Officer Claire Gordon who worked tirelessly to advise and guide the Surrey lady of ways to reduce her herd, explains what problems leaving a large group of animals to indiscriminately breed in this way can cause:
“This puts a huge energy demand on the mare who is trying to sustain the foal growing inside her, while her most recent foal still feeds from her with a cheeky youngster still stealing a drink when he or she should have been weaned long ago. As a result the mares drop condition, and as soon as the weather turns cold the energy demand on the mare is even higher as she now burns fuel to stay warm. As the mares deteriorate further their immune system weakens and they become more susceptible to preventable conditions like rain scald and lice which causes further suffering. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by putting management in place. This type of management is not possible by one person. This owner owned far more horses than she could manage.”
As it wasn’t possible for the owner to catch her horses, routine management was not possible so the horses would not receive worming, farriery, teeth rasping or grooming which led to some horses carrying worm burdens which were passed onto the foals, and to the land they lived out on. Over-grazed pasture coupled with the stocking density on the land increasing year after year just escalated the problem further.
The environment the horses were living in was also poor, World Horse Welfare Claire explains:
“The fields were poorly fenced with loose wire everywhere and broken machinery and farm equipment lying around. In winter the fields became a sea of flooded muddy clay and in summer the land became ragwort infested. Catching the animals that required veterinary attention was difficult and often dangerous.
“I tried many different approaches to assist the owner who initially did not want to part with any of her animals. I offered to bring in handling systems in order to passport, microchip, worm and sell some of the horses responsibly to lessen the burden. I brought private buyers to the owner and offered to have some of the animals signed over to the charity but still did not manage to obtain her cooperation. It is after exhausting many different avenues that I realised the owner’s behaviour was beyond my control. She possessed a hoarding behaviour and mentality where common sense and logic played no role which is what led to this situation evolving in the first place. I offered to hire skips to remove the hazardous items, but even what I considered to be rubbish became something of value to her that she could not part with.”
It was not until the owner lost her property and found herself without anywhere to move the animals to that she agreed to accept World Horse Welfare’s help and sign over a significant number of her horses to the charity – which is already full to bursting with welfare cases. However, in a dramatic turn of events the owner managed to secure new grazing at several different locations and employed someone to round up and move her animals at a moment’s notice.
As the horses moved to new fields with good grazing, the problems subsided for a few months masked by fresh spring pasture. World Horse Welfare was satisfied for a short time, as it kept a close eye on the owner at all times with Claire often visiting to check on the situation. However, as the charity had predicted, the stocking level soon took its toll on the new pasture which soon offered little for them to eat. The owner did take World Horse Welfare’s advice and managed to sell a considerable number over the summer to capable homes but found herself going into winter still with a herd of more than 70 horses.
Claire explains that as the weather turned the charity had to step in:
“As the weather turned cold the horses started to drop condition and as the fields were unsuitable and unavailable to the owner for winter grazing she found herself with few options and finally agreed to sign over the majority of her horse herd to World Horse Welfare and agreed to stop breeding any more horses.
“It took four days and a huge team of people to round up and safely process the owner’s herd and load them into fleets of lorries to transfer them to the charity’s care. The horses were wild, suspicious of new company and running free as a giant herd in a deep muddy field. This made splitting the herd into lorry loads and managing mare and foal bonds very difficult.”
World Horse Welfare is doing its best to cope with the horse crisis where 7,000 horses are currently at risk of abandonment and neglect across England and Wales, but is now up to its limits at the charity’s Norfolk farm. The farm was able to accommodate the horses only after special measures were put in place and the investment in races and crushes to bring in the herd, and the charity is recruiting extra temporary staff to help the horses get settled. The hope is that many of these horses will soon be available for rehoming.
This case is just one example of the scale of Britain’s horse crisis and how this will continue to take its toll on charities everywhere. Unless the government address the need for tighter legislation and the public help by rehoming a horse instead of buying the situation will not improve. Rehoming a horse will make vital space for those horses who need immediate rescue and care. You can help ease the burden on Britain’s horses by donating what you can so that World Horse Welfare can afford to rescue the increasing number of horses that are sure to be left out in the cold this winter as centre’s become full to bursting with welfare cases.
The owner is now left with just a handful of horses that can be caught on a well-run livery yard – and no breeding capabilities.
Claire ends with the reassurance that she will continue to monitor the situation regularly:
“I know that as long this owner has animals we are going to have to work together continually to prevent the cycle from starting again.”
Please rehome a horse and help make vital space for those that need it most this year: http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/rehoming/
You can also give what you can towards the charity’s latest group horse appeal to help it deal with the increasing number of large groups just like this that World Horse Welfare are having to rescue: http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/Appeal/Horses-at-risk
Find out more about the current horse crisis here: http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/Emerging-Horse-Crisis