'There is no space at the stables this winter.'
That's the situation this month, in what equine experts are calling a 'crisis' in horse and pony welfare. Charities say they are facing their worst crisis in 25 years nationally, with up to 7000 horses and ponies at risk if there’s a harsh winter.
Eastleigh MP Mike Thornton has teamed up with local stable-owner and Chair of the Epona Trust Carol Boulton to highlight the problem and call for action.
Fred (R) and Thomas (L) (pictured here with Mike and Carol at the Epona Trust in the Russells Equestrian Centre, Allington Lane, West End) were both rescued after being let go by their owners.
The Eastleigh-based Epona Trust, based at Russells Equestrian Centre on Allington Lane, West End, specialises in the rescue and rehabilitation of horses and ponies and is seeing a massive surge in abandoned horse cases.
Carol Boulton said: "Fred was an RSPCA case and had just been abandoned by his owner, left to fend for himself. Thomas was another RSPCA case – he was found wondering up and down the Bursledon railway line, just metres from live rail. Thankfully, we were able to rescue both Fred and Thomas and give them a permanent home, but many are not so lucky, and the situation is only likely to get worse."
According to the six leading UK equine organisations, irresponsible breeding, spiralling care bills in the tough economic conditions, the wet and cold weather, and rock-bottom sale prices have intensified the crisis, meaning as many as horses and ponies face being abandoned, neglected or even culled.
Mike Thornton said, "We must get a handle on this problem before the situation spirals out of control. Listening to Carol talk about Fred and Thomas’s cases, and the problems associated with abandoned horses, it really brings home how vital it is to get proper legislation to deal with this issue.
"Right now, the system just cannot deal with the large numbers of horses being abandoned, and charities’ capacity is at breaking point. Government and Councils need to revisit this issue as a matter of urgency.
"We need far stricter controls on horse ownership, with real enforcement on horse imports and exports. The Tripartite agreement between the UK, Ireland and France, allowing the import and export of vulnerable horses and ponies into and out of the three countries without health certificates, also needs to be reconsidered."
Mike added, "Carol advises me that it costs at least £3000 a year to properly care for a horse, and I’d encourage anyone thinking about buying a horse to consider carefully whether they really have the resources or the time to look after it properly in the long-term."
Carol Boulton said: "Farmers and land-owners often find they've suddenly got a stray horse in their fields. We’ve seen a big surge in horses just being abandoned."
"The difficult economic conditions recently has meant people have less money to buy, and care for a horse, and unfortunately some irresponsible owners dump them, leaving them to starve. Breeders are still producing horses, but there's just no market for them, and this is only making matters worse, and putting even more pressure on charities who are running out of space for all the abandoned animals."
"Local councils do have a duty to intervene where stray horses are reported, but most say they do not have the resources to look after the horses, even temporarily."
To find out more about the crisis and how you can help, please visit http://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/horse/takeaction
To find out more about West End’s Epona Trust, please visit http://www.theeponatrust.org/