Crisis point: numbers of RSPCA rescue horses reaches four-year high

The charity’s new cruelty statistics reveal that nearly 1,000 horses were rescued by the charity from cruelty, suffering and neglect last year (2017), and a staggering 928 horses are currently in the charity’s care.

The national horse crisis, which charities first highlighted in 2012, has since seen RSPCA officers called out to neglected and abandoned horses every day in England and Wales, with many of the animals extremely sick or dying.

The RSPCA’s latest figures show the horrifying impact of the crisis:
• The charity’s 24-hour emergency line received more than 80 calls a day about horses in 2017
• In 2017, the charity took in the highest number of horses into its care for four years (980)*
• The charity currently has 928 horses in its care
• Last year the RSPCA secured 25% more convictions for equine offences than two years ago**
• It costs the RSPCA more than £3m per year to care for the horses, excluding veterinary costs.

Despite the efforts of the RSPCA and other equine welfare organisations, the crisis shows no sign of easing, with huge pressures on the charity to find stables and funding to care for the large number of horses it has had to take in. As soon as one horse is rehomed, another is waiting to immediately fill the stable and, as a consequence, the majority of horses taken in by the RSPCA have to be cared for in private boarding stables at further cost to the charity.

The RSPCA’s inspectorate national equine co-ordinator Christine McNeil said: “We’ve been talking about the horse crisis for several years now, but the truth is the situation is just as severe today as when it started. Last year (2017) we took in more horses than we have in any of the past four years, and with our inspectors being called to rescue more and more every week, we are stretched to the limits.

“Up and down England and Wales, horses are being found sick, or dumped liked rubbish, dying or dead. Distressingly, this is common and it’s a huge issue. We are constantly receiving calls to our cruelty line – on average 80 per day about horses alone – as well as messages every day on social media from very concerned and upset people asking for our help.”

The impact of the recession, over breeding, the high costs of vet bills, the rising cost of hay and falling prices for horses have all contributed to the crisis.

The victims of this crisis include young horses like Adie (pictured here), who was was left for dead on New Year’s Eve. Like many other abandoned horses, he was not microchipped, and his owners were never traced.

Poor Adie was found collapsed in the mud at the brink of death. Just skin and bone, inspectors fear his owner felt the sickly youngster was not worth the cost of treating him, and this was the reason he was dumped and left to die in the field.

Thankfully for Adie, he was spotted by a walker who called the RSPCA immediately to help, and he is now slowly recovering in the care of one of the charity’s private boarding stables. Sadly, as Adie was not microchipped, the charity was unable to trace his owners.

However, now a new central equine database managed by DEFRA is in operation, making it easier for officials to identify horses and their owners. A new enforcement system is also planned this year in England with fixed penalty notices to be given by local authorities to owners with any horse under nine years old that does not have a passport or microchip. The RSPCA hopes this initiative will encourage responsible horse ownership.

It’s not uncommon for the charity to receive calls about fly grazed horses – animals left to illegally graze on land without the owner’s permission. However, since the introduction of the Control of Horses Act*, landowners and local authorities in England and Welsh local authorities are now able to manage these animals, leaving the RSPCA to focus on sick and injured horses.

The RSPCA’s cruelty stats released today (24 April), reveal the charity received 1,037,435 calls to its 24-hour cruelty hotline, investigated 141,760 complaints and issued 76,460 advice and improvement notices. The charity received the highest number of calls about dogs (189,095 calls), with cats coming in second (163,008 calls).

Last year the RSPCA once again dealt with shocking cases of horrific cruelty and neglect, securing 1,492 convictions under the Animal Welfare Act. Some of these cases included a dying dog found with a nail in his head, a hamster that was fed drugs and a crow that was set on fire.

To report any animal in need of help, you can call our cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or to support us to help rehome, rescue and rehabilitate more animals visit

*Number of horses the RSPCA rescued and took into its care:
2017 – 980
2016 – 949
2015 – 673
2014 – 933

**Number of convictions secured relating to horses by year:
2017- 225


Industry and Government Work Together to Implement New Protocol for Control of Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) in Great Britain

Collaboration between government veterinary authorities and the equine industry has put in place a new protocol in Great Britain for controlling any future outbreaks of the highly contagious venereal disease Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM), which can cause sub-fertility in affected mares and can establish chronic infections in stallions.

Any suspect cases of CEM must continue to be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).  However, under the new control arrangements, which came into effect from 1st February 2018, owners of affected horses in England, Scotland and Wales may use a private equine veterinary surgeon specifically approved to deal with the disease without official movement restrictions being imposed.  These arrangements require compliance with the control measures outlined in the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s (HBLB) Code of Practice for CEM whilst all associated costs will continue to be covered by the owners of affected horses.  The arrangements to deal with CEM in Northern Ireland remain unchanged.

Taylorella equigenitalis, the bacterium that causes CEM, can be passed through both natural mating and artificial insemination and whilst mares may exhibit clinical signs, stallions can carry the infection without showing signs.  In 2013, CEM’s notifiable disease status was reviewed but given the serious risk that the disease represents to the UK’s breeding population and the threat to the UK’s valuable equine export market, its notifiable disease status was retained but with more responsibility for control of the disease to be undertaken by the equine industry.

The new arrangements were developed by the Equine Disease Coalition* in close collaboration with the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA) and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and with the full support of the Government animal health teams in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.  The protocol underpins the need to comply with the HBLB Code of Practice for the disease, which contain guidance for monitoring, treating and managing outbreaks of CEM.

BEVA Chief Executive, Mr David Mountford, said:

“Whilst occurrences of CEM are sporadic and we have not had any confirmed cases in the UK since 2012, it still presents a very real threat to our breeding industry.  Ensuring cases are treated and managed by an approved veterinary surgeon, who is fully versed in the HBLB Code of Practice, guarantees that the appropriate provisions will be taken in order to safeguard our world class breeding population.”

The Animal Health Trust will have a central role in the new protocol, coordinating activities undertaken by approved vets, receiving and collating reports, initiating tracings off the premises and taking responsibility for any epidemiological investigations.

Animal Health Trust Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance, Dr Richard Newton, said:

“With any contagious disease it is vital that we are always best prepared to deal with any potential outbreaks and the new arrangements for CEM control clearly set out the sector’s commitment to managing the risks presented by this disease.  CEM could in time have a severe impact on our equine industry if we lose the ability to support the voluntary measures outlined in the HBLB Code of Practice with the legislative powers afforded under the Infectious Diseases of Horses Order 1987.  CEM is eminently treatable when it is identified and so by putting these new control measures in place whilst retaining its notifiable disease status, we can ensure any future cases are treated and managed effectively.”

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Mr Roly Owers, said:

“The new protocol for controlling CEM is a great example of what can be achieved through excellent collaborative working and cost-sharing between government and the equine sector.  By working together, we have developed a practical and proactive approach to managing this disease risk – not only protecting our thriving equine sector but more importantly, protecting the thousands of horses it relies upon.”

Joint Veterinary Advisor of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Professor Sidney Ricketts, played a key role in developing the new protocol.  He said:

“We have not seen any cases of CEM in our horse population for a number of years which can largely be attributed to compliance with the HBLB Code of Practice, but in many other countries instances of infection are regularly found and so there is a continued risk from carrier or infected mares or stallions being imported into the UK.  The new control measures are a vital tool in helping manage this risk.” 

Horse owners in Great Britain who suspect their horse could be infected with CEM and laboratories that suspect they may have identified the causal agent must report their suspicions to  the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 310.



British Horse Council – A New Voice for the Horse World

Two existing horse world organisations have combined their strengths to form a new body, the British Horse Council, to speak to government departments with one voice.

The new body has come about as a result of the decisions of the British Horse Industry Confederation and the Equine Sector Council (for Health and Welfare) to join forces. In practice the two organisations have been working together on a range of issues such as the horsemeat scandal, horse passports and rates for equestrian businesses for some time.  The move to formalise into one body which speaks to all government departments as well as devolved authorities is seen as a practical step.

With many issues, not least of which is Brexit, presenting challenges and opportunities throughout the sector it is especially important that, where there is common ground, racing, breeding, sport, leisure, trade, health, education, research, enforcement and welfare can present a strong and unified view.

Launched at the National Equine Forum this month, the British Horse Council, will be open and inclusive with a mailing list for all equestrian related organisations to join the conversation and regular group meetings for communication and consultation.

British Horse Industry Confederation Chair Lynn Petersen, welcomed the new body saying “the first thing I asked when becoming Chair of BHIC was why there were two organisations essentially doing the same thing. My question to colleagues was whether we could find a way to join forces since we are all focusing on the same challenges. With Brexit looming, there can be no better time for us to join together and promote our industry which contributes so much to society and the economy”.

Equine Sector Council Chair, Jeanette Allen, agreed commenting “a number of dedicated individuals have worked extremely hard to set up the BHC and it is all about cooperation, coordination but mostly consensus. Where the sector does not all agree about an issue, it will be left to individual organisations to communicate their own priorities and the BHC will harness the power of speaking with one voice whenever possible”.



Human Animal Interaction Study


Transformed Pony Buggy Finds New Home for Christmas

Buggy, the pony whose amazing transformation earned him the title of Equifest Rescue Horse of the Year, has found a loving new home just in time for Christmas.

Buggy was discovered in May 2016, abandoned at just a few months old and suffering from terrible maggot-infested wounds on his back. He was incredibly weak and spent several days receiving round the clock care at the Minster Equine Veterinary Practice where it was touch and go whether he would make it. Once strong enough, Buggy travelled to World Horse Welfare’s Penny Farm to begin his rehabilitation.

In summer 2017, Buggy’s inspiring story saw him crowned Rescue Pony of the Year at Equifest – an incredible achievement for a pony who was close to death just over a year earlier. Buggy was soon ready to find a new home on the charity’s Rehoming Scheme and ended his time at World Horse Welfare Penny Farm with a starring role as Prince Charming in the farm’s Christmas pantomime before making the journey to live with his new family in Northumberland.

Buggy’s rehomers, Linda and Jim, already rehome two horses from World Horse Welfare – Ethany and World Horse Welfare Zsonia. Linda said:

“We had followed Buggy’s story right from the start when he was first rescued and felt a real connection with him. As soon as I heard that he would be looking for a home, I was checking the World Horse Welfare website every day to ensure I didn’t miss the opportunity to rehome him! He has settled in really well with our seven horses and three alpacas – although he does have a real penchant for exploring the farm whenever he gets the chance. 

“We have had to alter his stable door as he was too small to look over it and I now love seeing his cute face peeping out each morning. He’s clearly learnt well from his time in the spotlight as he’s such a poser whenever anyone has a camera around and he’s already quite the local celebrity with carol singing taking place at the stables in his honour before Christmas!  

“He is a great companion for our other horses but I think he has such a taste for the limelight that we shall have to continue his in-hand showing career. We’re both so delighted to have been able to give this amazing little pony a home and look forward to seeing what the future brings for Buggy!”

Help give more horses like Buggy a second chance this Christmas:

Tributes Paid to Much-loved Adoption Horse, Digger

One of Europe’s tallest horses and much-loved adoption horse, 19hh World Horse Welfare Digger has been put to sleep due to ongoing health problems.

Digger arrived at World Horse Welfare’s Belwade Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre as a four-year-old in 2007 after his owner contacted World Horse Welfare to ask for help. He was growing fast and at such a young age, problems had started to occur with the joints in his hind legs. After extensive rehabilitation from World Horse Welfare and gentle veterinary care, Digger regained confidence and continued growing – earning his title as the biggest horse the charity has ever cared for.

Standing at an enormous 9 feet from the ground to the tips of his ears and weighing almost a tonne, Digger caught the attention of The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and was accepted on a two-year training programme to become a drum horse, taking part in preparations for the Royal Wedding and Major General Parades. Unfortunately, it became apparent that Digger was much better suited to life in the slow lane away from busy London, so he returned to the Scottish Highlands in 2012 where he became Belwade Farm’s adoption horse.

Over the last few months, Digger had been struggling with recurring abscesses and more recently, his demeanour had become increasingly subdued and withdrawn which was a marked change from the inquisitive, friendly personality that he was known to be. Often a significant change in demeanour like this can be a sign that a horse isn’t feeling right in himself and in Digger’s case the team felt his quality of life had very much deteriorated as a result of the health problems he had been experiencing.

Digger received the very best care from World Horse Welfare’s vet and farrier, but sadly his condition showed no signs of improving and so it was with a heavy heart that the whole team decided it was in Digger’s best interest to put him to sleep.

World Horse Welfare Belwade Farm Centre Manager, Eileen Gillen, said:

“Digger was not only an amazing personality, loved by everyone who knew him but also a fantastic ambassador the charity. Despite losing his mother at just a few weeks old and battling a number of problems due to his extraordinary size, Digger led an inspiring life.

“He was the most loveable character who always enjoyed greeting visitors from far and wide, being careful and gentle with everyone – young and old, humans and horses alike.

“Digger captured the hearts of so many people from not only the UK but around the world. He will be sadly missed by each and every one of us here at World Horse Welfare.”

World Horse Welfare is inviting tributes, photos and memories of Digger which can be made by emailing:

Education, Collaboration and a Practical Approach Key to Protect Invisible Horses of the Future

World Horse Welfare’s Annual Conference (30th November 2017) featured a host of speakers from across the equestrian sector who came together to discuss and debate how best we can protect the ‘invisible horses’ of the future.

Hosted at the Royal Geographical Society in London, the conference was opened with the charity’s President, HRH The Princess Royal who spoke of the changes in equine care and management over the years and stressed the importance and significance of a practical approach to safeguarding welfare. The Princess Royal also spoke of World Horse Welfare’s achievements over its 90 year history, highlighting the invisible horse concept and stressing the importance of collaboration. She said: “The invisible horse campaign has been an important one because it raises awareness of horses in our modern society that are not seen in the same way they would have been back in 1927. In those days most people would have had a pretty good idea of what horses did and how they lived, whereas now you might see them competing on the television but you probably don’t know all that much about them unless you choose to be directly involved.”

Entrepreneur, businesswoman and Dragon’s Den star, Deborah Meaden gave her personal perspective on the ways in which horses can go from visible to invisible through their lives, how education is critical in protecting the horses of the future and how technology has a vital role in this. She said: “When I look forward to the future, I’ve got immense hope. We’re becoming more connected with the world than we’ve ever been and technology is a fantastic thing for education. People can’t care if they don’t know. I get immersed in all of these stories of rescued and rehomed horses and I wish we could make it stop and then I realise that we can. We can because we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got the care and we’ve got the tools.”

International development scientist and vet Brian Perry OBE discussed the drivers and incentives for welfare at a global level, particularly focussing on the challenges presented by the rise in demand for equine-derived products such as donkey skins which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Professor Perry spoke of how this particular example has driven up the market value of donkeys thus resulting in thefts and illegal slaughter, and how this increased demand could place the future of the worldwide donkey population, and therefore the people who rely on them, at risk. He said: “In order to ensure welfare is protected through these emerging trades we have three steps to our approach. There is an opportunity to exploit these markets – improving product standards and thus welfare and health as a key component in this. We must have a ‘farm to fork’ outlook of understanding the beneficiaries at each stage of production and finally we must have incentives for product quality to be improved and welfare incorporated.”

Career digital marketer and founding partner of Apatchy London, Sam Tolhurst, presented on the many lessons being learned by business about social media and the opportunities and threats it brings for organisations like World Horse Welfare. She said: “The key to any successful brand, organisation or charity is building relationships. A healthy relationship involves both sides being equally interested. Social media is the first ever platform that really allows us to nurture such interest and traction on a vast scale and we should therefore fully embrace it as the opportunity to help the invisible horses of the future is huge.”

Animal welfare scientist and ethologist Michael Appleby OBE discussed the importance of ensuring working equids are appropriately recognised and represented at government level and the pressing need for evidence of these equids on their owners’ lives. He said: “The key is in balancing welfare and productivity. It could well be that increased welfare does increase productivity but we must have evidence in order to demonstrate this. We need quantitative data in order to persuade governments and policymakers that benefits to equines are benefits to the people who rely on them.”

A discussion panel chaired by Sky News Sports Editor Nick Powell and including Olympic gold medallist eventer Sir Mark Todd CBE, Vice President of the RCVS Chris Tufnell, Kate Hoey MP and World Horse Welfare Chief Field Officer, Claire Gordon, debated the meaning of responsible equine ownership from birth to death. The discussion covered a number of areas with debate on how to improve the most pressing welfare problems facing the UK’s equine population from legislation to education. World Horse Welfare Chief Field Officer, Claire Gordon, said: “Education and dissemination of information is the key driver of behaviour change so we need to identify why people are breeding with no purpose – then we can decide how to best deploy our resources.” The group agreed that partnership working and collaboration are both key to tackling equine welfare issues with Claire continuing, “No one charity has the resources to tackle all the welfare problems. I consider other equine charities as my colleagues – we work so closely together to solve the problems together.”

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers, completed the day with a reflection on the morning’s presentations and his thoughts on the challenges facing the invisible horses of the future. He said: “In order to bring sustainable change for the horses of the future, we must bring practical, actionable and real-world solutions to tackling both current and emerging welfare problems. True change can only happen through engagement, understanding and constructive, open-minded dialogue.”

Roly went on to discuss the importance of recognising the diverse role of equines across the globe and finished the day with an announcement that working in partnership with the FEI, World Horse Welfare will be leading on the first ever World Horse Day which will take place on 17th September 2018. He said: “We invite each and every one of you to join what we hope will be a worldwide movement to celebrate all that is the horse. The more we can focus the spotlight on them, the more they will be seen and the less they will be invisible.”

If you would like to enquire about attending then please email: or

For more information please call Carys Samuel on: 01953497248 or 07826 871 682 or Jessica Stark on: 07900 994002 or email /

Horse Owners Urge Others to Plan for Equine End of Life

A three-year study into horse owner attitudes to equine end of life coordinated by Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) and supported by World Horse Welfare and The Donkey Sanctuary has revealed that nearly three quarters of horse owners without previous experience of equine end of life have no plan in place.

The research, which is the first of its kind in the UK, collected data from more than 2,500 participants using a combination of depth interviews, focus groups and an online survey. Not only did the research set out to understand why owners do or do not feel able to make equine end of life decisions and the thought process undergone to arrive at these, but it also looked to determine what additional information and support is required to help owners in making these essential decisions.

“Thank you for doing this work … there is a definite need for it to help people make such a heart breaking decision.”

The study found that only one in eight equids die suddenly which means that most owners will be faced with making an end of life decision at some stage; however, less than a third of those who had not previously lost an equine had any sort of plan in place. Participants who had experienced equine end of life were asked what advice they would give to other owners and the majority stressed the importance of having a plan in place.

“Make a timely decision, at the right time. Make up your mind before hand – be prepared and have a plan and get all your contacts ready.”

“Be prepared, money available and know the decision when the time comes.”

“Horse owners should have a plan and tell other horse owners about it – just in case. If you have a plan it does help at such a devastating time.”

Furthermore, the research also found that end-of-life decisions are not just for older animals, with the number of equids who die aged 7-10 years being similar to those aged 26-30 years.

“The donkey I had to have put to sleep before was young; only a year old”

The key influence in owners’ end-of-life decisions was their own assessment of quality of life, but many felt they needed more support in doing so, with around half of owners wanting more information on this and so World Horse Welfare is working to develop a quality of life tool which will provide support for owners in assessing their individual equine.

World Horse Welfare Head of UK Support, Sam Chubbock said:

“End of life is understandably a very difficult subject for horse owners and as a result it can be tempting to avoid thinking about it until you are faced with the decision.  However, it is critical that all owners take time to give this some thought whilst their horse is still fit and well rather than waiting until they are facing a devastating situation.  I would personally like to thank each and every owner who took time to respond to such an emotional study – it is clear from so many of the comments how difficult it was for them to say goodbye to their companions so I am enormously grateful to them for sharing their experience with us.

“The AESE research has shown that whilst many horse owners do not make a plan, those who have experienced end of life urge others to think about it now and would echo our advice in stressing just how important this is from both a practical point of view and to help remove at least some of the stress from what is a very emotional time.

“Our existing ‘Just in Case’ materials are available to help owners with information and planning around end of life matters, and we would urge horse owners to download and read through these documents, plus fill out the plan which can be then kept somewhere safe until it is needed.

“There is undoubtedly a perception that as an owner you won’t need to think about the decision until your horse is in old age, but the research shows that it can happen at any time of their life and so it is vital to be prepared.  As one horse owner said, you should be organised because if your horse, who is your best friend, is in trouble then you need to be able to help them as quickly as possible.”

Dr Faith Burden, director of research and operational support at The Donkey Sanctuary said:

“This has been an enlightening project, and we are grateful to have been involved. End of life is such an emotional time for owners, however having a plan in place can alleviate some of the stress surrounding saying goodbye to a beloved companion. Taking the time to plan ahead really is in the best interests of the donkey.”

To download World Horse Welfare’s Just in Case materials visit: or to discuss your own individual situation call World Horse Welfare’s Advice Line on 01953 497238.

The Donkey Sanctuary has several resources available on the subject including:

Participating institutions: Askham Bryan College, Canterbury Christ Church University with the University of Sussex, Duchy College, Hadlow College, Harper Adams University, Hartpury College, Myerscough College, Plumpton College, Reaseheath College, Royal Agricultural University, Sparsholt College, University of Plymouth, Writtle College.

For more information please call Carys Samuel on: 01953497248 or 07826 871 682 or Jessica Stark on: 07900 994002 or email /


Equine charity welcomes decision to make CCTV mandatory in English slaughterhouses

Today World Horse Welfare welcomed Defra’s announcement that CCTV will be made mandatory in all English slaughterhouses. In its response to the results of a consultation on the issue, the Government announced that from spring 2018, CCTV will be required in every slaughterhouse in England in all areas where live animals are present, and that Official Veterinarians (OVs) will have unrestricted access to footage which must be kept for 90 days.  Slaughterhouses will have six months to implement the new requirements.

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers said: “We applaud the Government for this welcome advance for equine welfare, as accountability and transparency are essential if the slaughterhouse is to remain an option for horse owners, most especially those who cannot afford the high price of euthanasia.”

World Horse Welfare has campaigned since 2013 for mandatory CCTV in all areas of a slaughterhouse, as recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and for the footage to be easily accessible by OVs. The charity believes that CCTV can aid the OV in monitoring welfare and also serve as an excellent training resource for slaughterhouses to help make all processes as welfare-friendly as possible.

“Without CCTV in all areas of the slaughterhouse where live animals are present, horses at abattoirs are greater risk of being ‘invisible’ and horse owners needed greater confidence in the process.”

Last year almost three quarters of over 900 horse owners the charity asked through a Facebook survey said they would not have confidence that horse welfare would be protected throughout the slaughter process. While more than 90% of those asked would not use a slaughterhouse to end their horse’s life, almost half of them would consider it an acceptable option if measures were in place such as CCTV which is constantly in operation and available to the relevant authorities for monitoring at any time.

The Government’s consultation response cited that: ‘World Horse Welfare noted that market pressure for CCTV was not present in horse slaughter but there was a need to increase confidence in horse owners that slaughter was a humane end of life choice.

”We are especially grateful to everyone who has helped achieve this change, either by signing our petition, writing to your MP or sharing the campaign. We have been delighted with the wide support we and other organisations have received on this issue, and we look forward to seeing the details of the proposals.”