RSPCA struggling to keep up as horse crisis mounts

THE growing numbers of horses being neglected and needing to be taken into care is putting the RSPCA under pressure as never before, thanks to the continual breeding of horses by irresponsible owners and breeders.

Some horse owners and traders often buy or breed horses for which they cannot provide a substantial level of care and cannot sell in a declining market.

They then expect organisations like the RSPCA to pick up the pieces, while charities receive criticism when they are not able to take each and every animal into their care.

By 16 February 2012, the number of complaints received about abandoned equines was already at 122, compared to 120 for the whole of January and February last year.

There are currently 68 horses in boarding in the East region.

RSPCA chief inspector Cathy Hyde said: “People who have made a living from breeding and selling horses are failing to acknowledge that the animals’ value has dropped and they keep breeding although they have nowhere to keep the horses and have not accounted for the high prices of hay, straw and feed.

“This situation has got to stop. We have seen some ponies sold at markets for as little as £5 and the horses change hands on multiple occasions at numerous markets and sales, repeatedly compromising their health and welfare.

“The costs of euthanasia and gelding mean that many owners are also failing to pay for these, leaving sick and old horses to suffer and die, and leading to indiscriminate breeding amongst unneutered horses.

“We are, quite honestly, struggling to keep up with what is a mounting crisis.”

By far the biggest problem that charities are facing is the growing number of horses which they are taking into their care. Often these animals are subject to prosecution cases and can stay in care for months or even years - and it can cost more than £5,000 to rehabilitate a pony.

The RSPCA takes in and rehomes hundreds of horses every year. In 2010, new homes were found for 156 horses. Incredibly, our dedicated team managed to find homes for an amazing 240 in 2011.

However, there are still more than 500 horses currently being boarded on behalf of the RSPCA, most in private establishments and the charity just cannot keep up.

The RSPCA describes the impossible situation it is often in when trying to work within the law to improve animal welfare while the public’s expectations of what we can do is much higher.

All calls received by the RSPCA have to be dealt with by a total number of 402 officers (inspectors, animal welfare officers and animal collection officers). This works out as one RSPCA officer for every 137,414 people in England and Wales and is compared to a police force of 135,838 officers.

As well as trying to work to solve the problems of overpopulation and irresponsible breeding in the long term, the charity is making a desperate plea to the public to remember that we have finite resources and must always act within the law.

This means that our officers cannot remove every horse even though we share peoples’ concerns for the creatures they see in fields and on roadsides day after day.

RSPCA equine rehoming officer, Sally Learoyd, said: “We have been overwhelmed with enquiries from well-meaning people who believe that we are able to step in and remove animals straight away. We share their frustration that there are horses in fields which may seem as if they don’t have water or food but we do not have any powers to remove these horses unless they are suffering or their needs are not being met under the Animal Welfare Act.

“We want our supporters and others to understand that we can only offer the owners, where they are known, advice to improve less than satisfactory conditions – we cannot force them to comply with this advice nor take away their animals without veterinary support.

“It can be heartbreaking for our officers to try their best to improve horses’ lives within the law, only to be criticised for not being able to do more.”

The RSPCA does not hesitate to prosecute irresponsible or cruel owners where possible and achieved 175 convictions in 2010 (2011 figures to be released later in the year).

The RSPCA is currently training specialist equine officers to provide support to officers on the ground in equine-related investigations.

In May this year the RSPCA will run a fostering campaign, appealing for temporary homes for horses and ponies. This will mean the horses can be given more time and work, improving their chances of finding new permanent homes while helping to ease the mounting costs of keeping them in private boarding.

In order to draw attention to the RSPCA’s rehoming work there will be a brand new class at this year’s Equifest, a high profile horse show in Peterborough, on 18 August 2012.

The RSPCA is running its first ‘Rescue Horse or Pony of the Year’ class to promote the adoption of rescued equines and to show that they can go on to lead healthy and successful lives.

The RSPCA has a special section of its website dedicated to horses. Please visit http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/horses/rehoming/ownership to view some of the beautiful horses currently looking for new permanent homes.