Fears over welfare of horses

Fresh fears were raised about the welfare of the region's horse population yesterday after two Norfolk charities reported an “unprecedented” increase in rescue cases.

Fresh fears were raised about the welfare of the region's horse population yesterday after two Norfolk charities reported an “unprecedented” increase in rescue cases.

Officials from World Horse Welfare and Redwings Horse Sanctuary made an appeal for more help after new figures revealed that the recession was continuing to hit equine owners.

Both of the charities reported that they were full to capacity at their Norfolk rescue centres as a result of a high number of welfare cases and fewer people coming forward to rehome animals.

Staff at Redwings said that more than 100 rescued equines had arrived at their sanctuary at Hapton, near Norwich, so far this year - more than double the figure for the first quarter of 2008.

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Officials at World Horse Welfare, which has a centre at Snetterton, said they had taken in five large groups of horses and ponies since the start of the year and rehomings were down by a third.

The two equine welfare charities said the increased demand for their services came two years after the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act. The impact of the credit crunch and the cold harsh winter was also blamed on the organisations being stretched to the limit.

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Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, said there had been a marked increase in the number of multi-horse rescues, which could be attributed to authorities acting quicker under the Animal Welfare Act to remove animals that were likely to suffer from neglect or cruelty.

Over the last few months, four horses were transferred from an owner in Diss and ten from a farm in Chichester to the charity's Snetterton centre. World Horse Welfare has also rehomed 43 horses, compared to the 62 in the same period last year.

“The Animal Welfare Act is a hugely positive step for horse welfare, but in the current economic climate we are facing a problem.” “There has been much speculation that large numbers of horses and ponies are being abandoned or put to sleep because of the credit crunch. It is still too early to tell and there is little evidence to suggest that this is happening in large numbers, but what we are finding is that people are less inclined to take on the expense of having a horse and we have seen our rehoming figures drop dramatically,” said Mr Owers.

Nicolas De Brauwere, Redwings head of welfare, added that the economic situation could be partly responsible for why the charity had taken in 102 rescued equines this year. The figure was 38 in the same period last year.

“There is no doubt that this past winter has been much more difficult for horses than in recent years. Food has been scarce, ponies have experienced severe cold and this harsher climate also means they become more susceptible to disease. Whereas in a milder winter these equines may have just scraped by, this year they have really suffered,” he said.

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