Horse crisis in the UK

More than 6,000 horses at risk of neglect or suffering in England and Wales.

More than 6,000 horses at risk of neglect or suffering in England and Wales.

Significant progress has been made by charities and government to improve legislation relating to equines, including the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014 and Control of Horses Act 2015 (England), laws which made it easier to resolve cases where horses were left on others’ land without permission (fly-grazing). While the number of horses visibly fly-grazing has decreased markedly as a result, demands on welfare charities and the number of horses at risk remain consistently high. 

The number of horses requiring help from animal rescue and rehoming charities in England and Wales continues to outpace the spaces available, and the number of reports from the public regarding poor equine welfare are on the rise, in contrast with those regarding other species.   

In 2018, 1, 436 welfare concerns were reported from members of the public, which involved around 7, 500 horses. While the charity’s field officers have investigated a relatively constant number of welfare concerns annually since 2015 (around 1,500), these cases are increasingly complex, feature groups of multiple horses and require more revisits, and sometimes a multi-agency approach to resolution, which has placed heavier demands on our time and resources.  

What is causing the crisis

Several factors drive the horse crisis which together have created a systemic problem. 

  • Overbreeding: There are simply more horses being bred than there are homes for, and horses and ponies can be sold for £10, as seen at sales across England and Wales, or even be given away free. Overbreeding can be a result of naivety as owners and breeders still believe that they can produce quality horses for the market and make a profit. Increasingly more horses are being indiscriminately bred, either because owners have lost control of the situation due to lack of knowledge, illness or mental impairment, or because they believe they will eventually produce a horse of quality. 
  • Lack of enforceable equine ID legislation: Until late 2018 in England and early 2019 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there had been no enforceable equine ID legislation since January 2016. The new legislation requires all horses to be microchipped (except in Northern Ireland where retrospective microchipping has not been introduced) and their up-to-date data held on the central equine database, hence enabling local authorities to check ownership and issue civil sanctions for breaches.
  • Lack of enforcement: Aside from the lack of enforcement of equine ID legislation, welfare charities have stated on the record that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was never fully implemented through local authorities taking on enforcement of the Act. As charities are funded by voluntary donations from the public and receive no funding from government, enforcement of animal welfare law has largely relied on the generosity of the public. However, charities have limited space and resources to rescue all of the horses who increasingly need help.   
  • Rescuers becoming overwhelmed/Non-professional rescuers: There is a growing trend for charities to receive calls about unwanted equines who have been rescued with good intent but without the capability, long term opportunity or motivation to maintain care. Such ‘rescues’ are perhaps due to frustration resulting from perceived lack of action and enforcement in situations where equine welfare is believed to be at risk. Welfare charities are often unable to provide homes for these unwanted horses because they do not constitute enough of an emergency and yet the level of care falls well below what is legislated for in the Animal Welfare Act. 

What is the solution

A multi-faceted approach is required if positive, long-term changes are to be seen.  

  • Improved enforcement: communicating and using best practice on improving coordination between the enforcement agencies, particularly for multiple-horse cases. We also believe additional ring-fenced funding should be given to enforcement agencies from central government to ensure they can adequately enforce equine legislation. 
  • Licensing of sanctuaries and rehoming centres 
  • Educating horse owners on responsible ownership, including the need to breed. 

What you can do 

You can help these horses by rehoming a horse from a welfare charity.  If you can offer a good home to a horse or pony, please view our wonderful horses and ponies available now

Read more about: 

Control of Horses Act guidance

Left on the Verge pdf (2012 & 2013)

Our position on Horse welfare enforcement

Campaign to licence equine rescue centres and sanctuaries

Our position on equine rescue centres and sanctuaries

Our position on responsible ownership

How every £1 you donate is spent

  • 70p directly helps horses
    70p
    Directly helps horses
  • 30p is for fundraising
    30p
    Is for fundraising
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