Please help us avoid a horse welfare catastrophe
A blog by Dr Mark Kennedy, our senior scientific manager for equines and guardian of two rescue horses.
What is the 'horse crisis?'
You may have heard the term 'horse crisis' or 'equine crisis' before. It was first used in 2012 by equine welfare organisations who were under huge pressure after seeing a surge in horses, ponies and donkeys being abandoned.
In the intervening years, the number of horses in need has varied somewhat, but the problem has remained stubborn. The number of horses in RSPCA care peaked at more than 1000 in 2015 but at the time of writing, we have nearly 760 horses and ponies in our care.
Meanwhile, equine welfare organisations estimate that there are 7,000 horses and ponies at risk of abandonment, neglect and suffering across England and Wales right now. Because of the longstanding nature of this problem, many are starting to question whether the term 'horse crisis' is even appropriate for something which has persisted for eight long years.
What caused the 'horse crisis'?
Although few would argue that we know exactly what is driving this situation, the fundamental problem is that there are more horses and ponies being bred than there are good homes for them to go to.
Horses are expensive and hard work to keep. Owning and caring for horses is very much a lifestyle choice, as I know from personal experience as the joint carer of two rescue horses. Living with horses is definitely not something to be entered into lightly!
Of course, people keep horses for many reasons - to compete in equestrian sport, to make a living as a professional horse breeder or equestrian, to simply enjoy riding out in the countryside, or purely for the companionship of these wonderful animals.
Irrespective of the reason, the cost of caring for a horse is substantial. When one considers that horses can live well into their twenties and even thirties, a lifetime cost running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds is not unusual, it can be like having a second mortgage!
Why are we facing a horse catastrophe - what's different now?
Simply put: the Covid-19 pandemic - or to be more precise - the deepening financial downturn we are now experiencing. The 'first' equine crisis is thought to have been triggered by the recession in 2008. Now that an even deeper downturn is predicted, the outlook is bleak.
We're afraid that we're going to see a 'perfect storm.' Horse owners may struggle to cope with the financial cost and care commitment of looking after their horses; especially with the onset of winter, when feed and other care costs rise. These pressures result in many horses falling into situations of neglect and abandonment.
This is happening at the same time that welfare charities such as ourselves are already at breaking point due to the longstanding effects of the existing 'horse crisis'. On top of this, we're seeing our resources decrease.
If any equine rescue organisations fail due to lack of income, this will add even more pressure on the remaining charities - and reports show that many horse welfare charities are struggling. Without our supporters, we simply couldn't help the animals that we do.
Three ways you can help fight the 'horse crisis'
If you're a true horse lover and want to help, there are three things that we really need help with!
Do you need to breed your horses?
If you breed horses, even if you are just thinking about taking a foal from your beloved retired mare, please, please think very carefully about the responsibility that you are taking on. Horses can live into their thirties; are you sure that you can offer a good home for life? If not, please don't breed! World Horse Welfare has an excellent 'Do You Need to Breed' initiative.
Adopt don't shop!
Please consider adopting your next horse from a charity instead of buying (and potentially funding unscrupulous breeders and dealers). Many people know how rewarding rescuing a dog or cat can be, and what a fantastic range of animals come into our care looking for new homes. We really hope adopters will see that it's the same for horses - we have some excellent horses and ponies just waiting for their new home right now.
All of our rescue animals have full veterinary and behavioural checks and receive any necessary treatment before they're put up for adoption. In fact, you will know a lot more about one of our wonderful rescue horses than about one you might buy on the open market!
As guardian of two wonderful rescue horses myself, I know first-hand how satisfying it is working with rescue horses and bringing out their full potential. Seeing horses who have had a bad start in life develop into fantastic companions or successful riding and competition horses is incredibly rewarding. It's made even better knowing that you're also helping other needy horses by freeing up spaces for them in the rescue animal centres.
Alternatively, if adoption is not right for you at the moment, why not foster a horse?
Donate money to the animals in our care
We realise that not everyone is in a position to rehome a horse, but if you'd like to help us cope with the influx of needy horses we're expecting, please consider donating to animals in need. Thank you, as a fellow horse lover.