RSPCA Cymru fears a financial recession could leave Wales facing an even deeper equine crisis - with the animal welfare charity already inundated with calls about horses in need.
Since Covid-19 lockdown measures were announced on 23 March, the RSPCA has received reports of 195 incidents about horses in Wales – prompting fears that worse is to come if an economic recession follows the pandemic.
In 2019, 2,145 equine incidents were reported to the RSPCA in Wales – 10 per cent of all horse incidents brought to the charity’s attention; highlighting how Wales is “disproportionately hit” by equine issues. Wales’ most troubled spots were Cardiff (449 incidents), Flintshire (196 incidents) and Swansea (152 incidents).
Across England and Wales, the RSPCA received reports of more than 21,000 incidents in 2019 – and had nearly 900 equines in its care, with rescue centres full and hundreds being funded in private boarding establishments. While lockdown figures are proportionately lower than the previous calendar year; with Covid-19 restrictions meaning people are less likely to witness welfare issues, the RSPCA say the latest data is a “serious cause for concern”.
Equine welfare charities are already under immense strain, following the horse crisis which was sparked off by the 2008 financial crash.
The RSPCA is now appealing for vital donations to help keep its officers on the frontline tending to at-risk horses during the coronavirus crisis, and to prepare it for a possible influx of horses and ponies desperately in need of help.
Christine McNeil, the charity’s National Equine Inspectors Co-Ordinator said: “This is a truly worrying time for equine charities – we still haven’t got a handle on the repercussions of the current horse crisis, and it now looks like the worst is yet to come.
“In Wales, 2,145 equine incidents were reported to us in 2019 – and the scale of incidents suggest Wales is being disproportionately hit by equine problems. The numbers of incidents being brought to our attention during lockdown is also a serious cause for concern. We’re now worried that a financial recession could make the problem even worse.
“With such a huge number of horses in our care, and so many in private boarding, at great cost, we have already had to adapt how we try to help as many horses as we can.
“Several ‘herds’ of horses in need are being cared for in situ with our officers visiting regularly to feed and care for them, until we can find spaces in one of our centres for them, or funds to transport them to private boarding.”
Continued overbreeding, coupled with falling demand for some types of horses, has created a surplus of unwanted equines.
Threats of a financial recession this year has led to fears that irresponsible horse breeders will continue to breed their animals in a bid to turn a quick profit and that existing horse owners will struggle financially to keep their animals and cover vet bills.
A bay horse who became trapped up a very narrow, fence-lined, public right of way in Llandough is one of the incidents dealt with by the RSPCA during lockdown.
RSPCA Cymru enlisted the support of the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service to help the horse. Firefighters removed a stile at the end of the path, allowing them to effectively do a three-point turn with the animal and walk him back to the field he had escaped from.
The animal welfare charity has been told the horse was in the field without permission, and fears another welfare issue if the animal escapes again and returns to the narrow lane as before. Officers from the RSPCA urged anyone with information about who may own the horse to contact them.
Many of the horses rescued by the RSPCA come into the charity’s care for rehoming. Rescue organisations in Wales have been able to rehome horses and other pets since 15 May; after the Welsh Government pointed to new Guidance that has been published by the Animal Welfare Network for Wales; meaning people can adopt these rescued equines once again.
Inspector McNeil added: “The public’s help is absolutely vital to keep the RSPCA afloat during this extremely difficult time. We can’t stress how much we need loving homes for our horses and ponies, and we are urging those with experience of horses to please consider rehoming one of our wonderful rescue horses.
“Last year (2019), across England and Wales, we rehomed 242 horses and ponies to loving new homes, with many going on to become superb children’s riding ponies, happy hacking horses, fantastic project youngsters, and wonderful retired companions.”
To help the RSPCA keep rescuing horses, providing them with essential veterinary care, rehabilitation, and finding them new homes through these unprecedented times, please donate whatever you can spare at www.rspca.org.uk/covid.