Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Equine welfare crisis out of control warn activists

'Indiscriminate breeding of sport horses must stop,' says rescue worker

NO FUTURE? Foals born to unproven and poorly bred sports horses face a bleak future according to animal welfare campaigners
NO FUTURE? Foals born to unproven and poorly bred sports horses face a bleak future according to animal welfare campaigners

Siobhán English

The equine welfare crisis is set to worsen over the summer months because of the continued 'indiscriminate breeding' of poor quality or unproven sports horses, horse welfare campaigners have warned.

"The indiscriminate breeding of sport horses has to stop and there needs to be tougher rules to implement controls," said Pauline Doyle who runs a horse sanctuary in Waterford.

"Some people are still of the belief that they are going to breed the next superstar when in fact most of the time they end up with rubbish from bad mares and unproven stallions.

"I see it all the time – young fillies being rescued with foals that have no future. Many of them have bad conformation, with four crooked legs, and are of little use to anyone.

"Of course we re-home what we can, but there are others that simply cannot be moved on so easily. I have re-homed three ex-racehorses in the past three months and all have found fantastic homes.

"One of those will be used for disabled riders. But then, just this week, we found a four-day-old sport horse foal dumped in a field."

Doyle also claims that Travellers are being unfairly blamed for many horse cruelty and neglect cases where small-time breeders and farmers are the guilty parties.

"Just look at the case of those horses found at the bottom of a cliff in Co Clare. They were dumped with cattle, but I have never seen Travellers with cattle before," she said.

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"I believe a farmer was responsible, but the tags were removed from the cattle and the horses were not micro-chipped, so it is impossible to trace the owner.

"Farmers have had their subsidies for horses cut now as well since last year, and they too cannot afford to keep them."

She made her comments against the backdrop of Kilkenny County Council's decision two weeks ago to put down four in-foal mares despite offers from Doyle and other equine welfare campaigners to rescue the mares.

"I saw photographs of these mares and there was nothing wrong with them," she claimed. "They were healthy, but were not even given a chance. They could have been re-homed.

Kilkenny County Council rejected these claims: "The animals were straying on private property. There was no agreement in place with the owners to leave horses grazing on the property and no lease was in place," said a council spokesperson.

"There was no offer to pay for the animals. The cost to the council of impounding the animals was €7,680. A maximum of €3,600 of this will be recoupable from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine."

Funding reduction

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) funds county councils to implement the Control of Horses Act..

This funding has been reduced and it no longer covers the full cost of implementation of the Act.

"In particular DAFM no longer funds re-homing of horses. Each council is expected to recover its full costs from the person re-homing a horse," stated Kilkenny County Council.

Welfare campaigners believe that a co-ordinated approach involving the Department, county councils, breeders, farmers and equine charities is required to make any inroads into the horse welfare crisis.

"I believe we are dealing with some 18,000 horses in crisis in Ireland at the moment," Doyle continued.

"It would be naive of me to think we could save them all, but there needs to be an amnesty, whereby we can weed out all these bad horses. It is up to all the relevant bodies to pull together on this."

The country's 136 registered animal welfare charities received €1.8m in Government funding last year, but some horse sanctuaries can't pay the price of a load of hay from their grant.

Hilary Robinson, who runs the Hungry Horse Outside sanctuary in Longford, said her charity is expected to subsist on a €1,400 grant.

"That was gone on the first delivery of hay and we even had to add to it for that."

Hungry Horse Outside relies on donations to care and shelter the abandoned animals it deals with with every week. "The situation is not getting any better," said Robinson.


"We, as a country, can produce all the legislation in the world for traceability, but at the end of the day it is up to the owners to do something.

"If the breeding of poor animals was stopped for a while things might improve."

New legislation on horse ownership takes effect from July 1 – this will make it compulsory to keep detailed ownership and transaction records.

It is hoped this data will ensure better traceability, but there have been criticisms that the added paperwork will prove too onerous for some dealers.

In a bid to address over-breeding and make re-homing more affordable, Robinson's charity is currently piloting a self-funded programme which has received a lot of positive feedback.

"At the moment approximately 89pc of the animals we take in are stallions. This is why we have now set up a new programme where we will mark, microchip and geld animals for €60.

"So far it is being very well received and in March alone we had 53 candidates."

In recent weeks she has also set up a Facebook page to share details on animals impounded by the charity and suitable for fostering. This too has been well received by people interested in saving some of Ireland's abandoned horses.

"There are plasters being placed over the issue all of the time, but slowly we are trying to make a difference," says Robinson.

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