Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Offering a helping hand to the neglected horses

The hunt goes on to locate potential carers for rescue horses in need of foster homes

Louise O'Leary (left), of Louloubelle Bags, and Sinead Desmond of
TV3, model the 'Hazel' bag, named after Louise's rescued
thoroughbred mare
Louise O'Leary (left), of Louloubelle Bags, and Sinead Desmond of TV3, model the 'Hazel' bag, named after Louise's rescued thoroughbred mare
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

It's said that every cloud has a silver lining but in the case of the equine welfare crisis in Ireland, it has been difficult to find an upside to the overwhelming numbers of horses and ponies in trouble.

The past year has been punctuated by tragic stories of animals being neglected, starved and left to die. Welfare charities have been inundated with horses and requests for help.

On closer inspection, there is a silver lining -- the sheer generosity of the many volunteers who have re-homed rescue horses and ponies. The animals have been taken into kind, caring and responsible homes where they have a certain future and a guaranteed quality of life.

ISPCA chairperson Barbara Bent said the number of horses being re-homed has increased in recent months.

"We got 21 horses re-homed in the past fortnight," she said. "That's a much higher number than ever before.

"We could re-home even more if we had the time to break the unbroken youngsters.

"We have lots of nice looking three- and four-year-old horses, who could be suitable for competition in showjumping and dressage if someone was experienced enough.

"If we could 'break and make' some more horses, we could re-home 100 in the same time but, unfortunately, we don't have the staff to do it ourselves."

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Calls to the ISPCA rescue hotline in relation to horses have outstripped all previous records this year. Horses accounted for 1,204 calls to the ISPCA up to the end of June this year, which is a dramatic increase on the 430 calls received in 2008, and this year's tally looks set to double last year's figure of 1,142.

The recession has changed the profile of horses being taken in by the ISPCA, with highly bred performance horses now accounting for a major portion of the rescue cases.

"We took in six registered Irish Draught horses last week, a mare and her progeny. That would never have happened a few years ago," Barbara said.

Microchipping has impacted positively on the rescue and re-homing cycle. Although the current owner of a horse cannot be traced from the microchip, the horse's breeding can be identified.

"The chip means we can identify the pedigree and, if the horse has good bloodlines, it has a greater chance of being re-homed.

"If someone is willing to take on a young horse, they are more likely to take on one that has the potential to achieve something in the competition arena."

So what does re-homing a rescue horse involve?

There are some basic rules that the ISPCA adheres to when re-homing rescue horses.

Firstly, because horses are herd animals, no equine will be re-homed to be kept on its own; it must have suitable company of at least one other horse.

The ISPCA retains ownership of the horse and has the right to repossess the horse, if the terms of the fostering agreement are not being adhered to or if they have any other concerns about the animal.

Re-homed horses can be used for all types of equestrian activities but cannot be used for hire, reward or breeding.

According to the organisation, "there are already too many unwanted equines; we are not going to add to their number by allowing our rescue mares to breed. If you would like another equine, please consider another rescue animal.

"We are happy for our equines to be ridden, driven and competed with, as long as their welfare comes first.

"Apart from the above stipulations, the equine is yours for its lifetime, as long as we are satisfied you are adhering to the fostering agreement," the ISPCA added.

Many of the horses have been rescued from cruel and neglectful situations, some are very nervous or have behavioural problems and some have chronic health issues, so the aim is to try to find homes which will meet their needs and provide a good experience for the equine and the foster person.

Applications for re-homing will involve talking with the potential fosterer about the individual horse and the fosterer's situation, a home visit, and, if approved, time spent handling the equine before it is taken to its foster home.

Although there are no fees for re-homed horses, the ISPCA does ask for a suitable donation to help with the costs incurred in bringing that animal back to health.

In terms of the expertise required for re-homing an animal, the ISPCA has issued the following guidelines:

  • A sound understanding of stable management, equine health and veterinary care is desirable.

Experience in keeping, riding and training horses may be necessary for some of the more difficult equines.

  • Willingness to learn and be guided by our staff would be acceptable with some animals -- if you don't have a lot of experience.
  • A commitment to follow a regular routine of vaccination, worming, farrier and dental care, together with any specific routine for an individual equine (for example: ability to manage laminitic ponies, sweet itch, arthritis, etc).
  • A commitment to provide necessary veterinary and nursing care should the equine become injured or sick.
  • If fostering an untrained animal or a riding animal, you will need to demonstrate your ability to handle it.
  • You will need a commitment to give the equine a dignified ending when its quality of life has deteriorated, where a veterinary surgeon recommends euthanasia, in consultation with the ISPCA, except in emergency situations.

Who to contact for re-homing rescue horses...

  • ISPCA: or call 043 332 5035
  • Dublin SPCA: or call 01 493 5502
  • Irish Horse Welfare Trust: or call 0404 45720.

Irish Independent