Leading charities release Britain's Horse Problem report

Redwings and six other leading animal welfare charities are calling on the public and the government for support this winter to help us cope with an expected surge in equine welfare cases due to the pandemic.

Together we have released a report, called Britain’s Horse Problem, which highlights how the pandemic has impacted welfare charities and is expected to create significantly more equine welfare problems when charities are least able to cope with them, against a backdrop of a ‘broken system’ which allows thousands of horses to become at risk of suffering each year.

The report includes recommendations for owners, the public, government and enforcement agencies to fix this system, and mitigate what is feared could be a ’horse welfare catastrophe’ this winter and beyond.

You can read the full report here.

“While equine charities have taken in thousands of horses each year, horses are being put at risk at least at the same pace as we are collectively able to rescue them. It’s like trying to drain a bath with the taps still on, no matter how much water escapes down the drain the water level remains unchanged. Covid could make the bath overflow,” said Nic de Brauwere, Chair of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) and Head of Welfare & Behaviour at Redwings.

Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare, which led the coaltion producing the report, added: “The demands on welfare charities which seemed so acute in 2012 with the ‘horse crisis’ have continued unabated, so this is no longer a crisis but the ‘new normal.’ Equine welfare charities have been overstretched trying to help as many horses as possible, grappling with crisis management to the best of our ability over the past seven years, but Covid could push us over the edge.

“With a challenging winter ahead, now is the time to let the public and government know that we see a storm coming, and we need support to prepare for it. We also need to look at the root causes of equine welfare problems and change the system which should be protecting horses and holding owners accountable but is falling far short of that.” 

The number of horses requiring help from the c.200 equine rescue and rehoming charities in England and Wales continues to outpace the more than 11,350 spaces already provided, and the number of reports from the public regarding poor equine welfare remain persistently high. There are more than 7,000 horses on charities’ radar as being at risk of neglect or abandonment. Members of NEWC, which includes some of the largest charities, continue to take in more than 2,000 horses each year, with 2,347 admitted in 2019.

As a follow up to the 2012 and 2013 reports highlighting the ‘horse crisis’ which arose after the 2008 financial downturn, this latest report welcomes changes to the law since 2012 on addressing fly-grazing and equine identification but highlights systemic failures of horse ownership and enforcement. It also says that wider regulation of equine establishments is needed as many large rescue cases now arise from purported sanctuaries or commercial businesses.

Horse owners and the public are also asked to consider their own responsibilities, when caring for their animals or giving to rescue charities.