RSPCA fears a second wave of equine crisis

The RSPCA is warning that a financial recession could plunge the country into a second wave of equine crisis which has already led to thousands of dumped and dying horses and crippled welfare charities.

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.

Darren the pony Gravesend

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 around.

“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 care 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) Julia Parsons was a great example of this when she was travelling 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.

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.”

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