MORE than 2,600 horses have been put to sleep by local authorities this year as they ramp up their efforts to control horses grazing on publicly-owned land.
The figure is almost 80pc of all horses seized by local authorities this year and is a 25pc increase in the number of horses euthanised in 2012.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent from the Department of Agriculture show that 3,288 horses have been seized by local authorities so far this year under the Control of Horses Act 1996.
Department officials have confirmed that to date 2,658 of those animals were put down, while just 308 (9pc) were re-claimed by their owners.
Horses that have been impounded by local authorities are only released back to their owners if they can present evidence that their animals are compliant with the legislation on equine identification and that they have a registered equine premises to keep the animals on. Some 95 horses remain in state pounds, while 262 horses have been taken in by welfare charities.
Reacting to the figures, ISPCA chairperson Barbara Bent said it was "a terribly sad situation that 80pc of horses taken in are being put to sleep, but it is better that they are humanely put down than left to starve to death over two months on the side of a road".
Some 1,830 calls have been made to the ISPCA about horses so far this year by members of the public concerned about their welfare. The figure is running about 300 ahead of 2012 horse welfare calls.
"Uncontrolled breeding is a serious problem," said Ms Bent. "Young colts are not being castrated and this results in huge herds of animals grazing on public land."
Local authority funding to deal with horse welfare issues has been increased to €5m this year by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who said recently that he had a horse disposal scheme "ready to go" if needed. The scheme would allow for large numbers of horses to be taken into state ownership and, if necessary, humanely destroyed.
However, some local authorities have introduced new bye-laws in an effort to curb the urban horse population.
All horse owners in South Tipperary must now apply for a licence to keep a horse under a new bye-law enacted three weeks ago. In order to qualify for the €30 licence, horse owners must prove that they own or lease at least one acre per horse.