Horse Welfare in the UK and what we do to help
There are an estimated 847,000 Equines in the UK and each and every one of them deserves a life worth living.
At Hope Pastures we aim to reach as many Equines as possible with the resources we have and try to improve the quality of life of each and every horse we meet.
This is such a huge task, and can be daunting, frustrating, incredibly sad and emotionally challenging. It is also one of our largest costs.But, for those animals we do reach and change their worlds, every second is worth it.
Sometimes, this may be something as simple as a kind word and some affection, as we are restricted by the law and monitoring is our only option. But we will always do everything in our capacity to improve the lives of all the horses we meet.
In recent years, Yorkshire has remained one of the most concentrated areas for equine neglect, abuse and abandonment. West Yorkshire is a hot spot for equine welfare issues- Hope Pastures are therefore in a unique position to access those in need of help as much as possible.
These horses,ponies and donkeys are very close to home and need our help.But, we can’t do what we do without your support!
For simplicity we will use the name ‘horse’ to apply to all Equidae-including Donkeys, Ponies, Hinnies, Mules and their Hybrids.
How to recognise and report a horse welfare concern.
Horses are usually tough, hardy outdoor animals but every one requires his/her basic needs to be met under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The main components of this law to apply to horses are based on the:
Here we have listed the Five Freedoms and added our own description of what it can mean.
Freedom from hunger and thirst:
For horses, this can be in the form of grass and edible hedgerows in fields, hay/haylege and bucket feed as an additional source of nutrients. Fresh,clean drinking water should be available at all times (This includes tethered horses, however if this is not possible for practical reasons, tethered horses should be offered fresh drinking water by their owner at regular intervals throughout the day.)
Freedom from discomfort:
By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a dry, comfortable resting area. For horses this can be a hardstanding area with suitable hedgerows/trees as natural shelter, a field shelter or stable with clean, dry bedding material or dry soft ground.
Freedom from pain, injury or disease:
For horses this includes prompt recognition and treatment of any ailments or injuries and by prevention of these ailments and injuries by diligent care and daily checks. This can be by ensuring all equipment and tackle is in working order and comfortably fitting, that a qualified veterinarian, dentist or farrier is contacted promptly should a condition be recognised, and that routine care such as worming,vaccination, dentistry and farriery are in place.
Freedom to express normal behaviour:
For horses this should mean offering sufficient space on a daily basis for at the very least 2 hours (unless advised otherwise by a veterinarian) for exercise and freedom of movement, social interaction with other equines, the ability to display natural behaviours such as rolling, mutual grooming, grazing, browsing and playing.
Freedom from fear and distress:
Horses should never be put in a situation where they receive physical abuse at the hands of any humans or are at risk of attack from other animals, including other equines. This could be by human handlers using positive punishment as a training method, being forced to share a space with another animal which could harm the equine, or worked to the point of physical exhaustion.
When to seek help for a horse, pony or donkey you are concerned about.
Tethered Horses, Ponies or Donkeys
We receive calls almost every day from members of the public who are concerned about tethered horses.
We do not believe that tethering horses is a viable or humane method of keeping a horse as more than a temporary measure because, by its nature, it denies the horse of the five freedoms as described above.
However, tethering is not Illegal in itself and can be a useful temporary solution for some horse owners.
If codes of practice supplied by DEFRA are followed, many tethered horses are likely to have more freedom of natural behaviour and greater space than stabled horses for example.
However, they may be more at risk from harm by dog attacks, unwanted attention from people, being fed unsuitable foods by well meaning people and the extremes of cold and heat.
You have seen a tethered horse and want to help-what to look out for.
Is the horse tangled or trapped?
Horses should never be tethered to a tree or pole which would allow them to become entangled. They should be tethered to a metal peg in the ground which gives enough clearance of the chain not to become wrapped around the peg.
A fully rotating swivel clip to prevent the chain from becoming twisted around itself should be on either end of the chain too.
Is the horse able to move freely?
The chain should be 20 ft long at least to allow freedom of movement.
Are they tethered comfortably and free from harmful restraints?
A comfortably fitting leather ‘tethering strap’ and leather headcollar should be used.
Nylon headcollars, seat belt type materials, rope,baler twine or similar are unsuitable and can cause abrasions or become embedded into the flesh.
Are they able to seek shade and shelter?
Horses should be tethered close to natural or man made shelter to enable them to access this in extreme weather, but safely enough to avoid entanglement. In windy weather they can be tethered at the base of a hill or ridge on suitably safe, level ground.
Are they safe from harm and from causing harm?
They should not be tethered too close to a road, path or highway which would allow them to become a danger to themselves, pedestrians or motorists.
They should be tethered in an area free from debris,litter or other hazards.
Are they in acceptable health?
The horse should appear bright, alert and responsive. They should be grazing or eating forage, or resting, displaying normal equine behaviour.
To check visually from a safe distance, they should be a healthy weight (see our guide on weight) and not emaciated nor obese.
Skin and coat should be supple and free from bald patches and sunburn, rubs or sores.
The tether strap and /or headcollar should be comfortable enough not to be causing any hair loss, abrasions or injuries underneath.
Embedded tether straps and head collars on tethered horses are a real concern and can attract flies and maggots in the warmer months.In growing animals, they can become badly embedded unless they are adapted as the animal grows.
They should not be displaying signs of sickness such as lethargy, colic, runny nose or eyes, disorientation or collapse.
Their hooves should be a normal length and not over-grown or with deep cracks which cause lameness.
They should be walking comfortably and not lame or sore on their hooves.
When should a horse NOT be tethered?
Pregnant mares should be removed from their tether during the last third of pregnancy, during foaling and when they have foals at foot. They should be placed in a secure paddock instead.
Any horse under the age of two years should not be tethered.
Elderly, sick or infirm horses should not be tethered.
Having assessed the horse if you are concerned about using the guide above and you are still concerned about the horses safety or health please contact the following to report:
Info to follow
Fly grazing is a huge issue in Yorkshire and is commonly used as a ‘free’ yet illegal way to keep horses.
There are laws in place for landowners to refer to is if they find themselves a victim of illegal fly grazing. Our welfare workers regularly provide support and advice on this matter so please contact us if you require any help.
Often the environment used as fly grazing is hazardous to the horse. Freshly mowed fields (mown grass can be lethal to horses), derelict building sites, crop fields, sewage works, electricity substations and areas prone to flooding to name a few welfare risk areas we have found animals fly grazing in.
Livery yards and private fields
Neglect and cruelty is not restricted to fly grazing or tethering…in fact we are often called to neglected equines on livery yards and privately rented or owned grazing land.
All of the information regarding horses welfare needs as outlined above apply to horses in fields and stables,too.
We are always on hand to offer help and advice to livery yard owners, field owners and individuals keeping horses who may need us.
We regularly assist owners who need help with their horses due to lack of experience, or if they are stuck on a particular issue such as weight gain, muzzling, or behavioural problems. We have many fully qualified professionals who we can recommend if needed too such as behaviourists, equine dentists, nutritionists and vets.
What we do to help
We employ two Welfare Coordinators who between them cover the whole of Yorkshire. With qualifications in horse care,welfare and behavior they have many years of experience in the field of welfare and they are often called out to horses, ponies and donkeys in distress, checking that their welfare needs are met under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
When we receive a call from a concerned individual, their details are kept in the strictest confidence in accordance with GDPR.
We aim to visit any animal which is of concern and if we are unable to visit we always refer the details of the animal and location to one of our multi-agency partners via our National Equine Welfare Council network.
A full assessment will be completed and help will be sought for any suffering animals. This can involve consultation with the local authority, police, RSPCA and other larger organisations who can assist the equine/s,and remove them if required.
We stay on hand to offer assistance, comforting and supporting animals in distress where needed, and informing and educating members of the public. We record the neglect or cruelty by taking videos and photographs and we record in detail our findings should a prosecution be pursued.
We do not seize equines or board stray horses as sadly we do not have the financial capacity to fund prosecutions for cruelty and neglect.
The issue of stray horses in Yorkshire is on such a huge scale that we would reach full capacity in a very short period of time,using up our financial reserves very quickly which is not the best plan for a sustainable future.
The market value of horses is often very low and sadly high abandonment rates continue to be a concern because once an equine is no longer of use or requires veterinary care, some owners do not have the means or desire to provide this and simply abandon the animal on public or private land.
As we said in the beginning, each and every equine deserves a life worth living and we find this abhorrent. Many abandoned equines are discarded due to their gender! Colts (young male horses ) are often surplus to requirements due to the complications of housing them and the cost of castration.So, they are simply abandoned and charities, authorities and rescuers are left to pick up the pieces.
We aim to help these colts or stallions by offering subsidised castrations, meaning more colts are ‘gelded’. Once gelded, they become much more re-homable and amenable to handle as well as being simpler to house on a variety of yards and fields (as they can be mixed with mares as well as other geldings)
Many owners want the best for their colts but lack the finances needed for the operation. For us, a one-time procedure that will change the prospects of that colt for the next 30 + years is so worthwhile.
We also offer advice on general care, housing,handling and feeding to any owners who require it.
In 2020/2021 we are running a scheme whereby we offer funding for vulnerable colts or stallions provided their owners have them microchipped and passported, or have this done at the time of castrating.