Horse sanctuaries in Leeds are facing mountains of calls about the rising number of abandoned horses. Jonathan Brown spoke to volunteers about the stark situation in the region.
As the recession bites, horse owners struggling to cope with the rising cost of keeping their animals are resorting to dumping them and leaving them to die.
Rescues and sanctuaries such as Hope Pastures, in Woodhouse Lane, Weetwood, have seen dozens of calls from horse owners desperate to get rid of their animals and landowners wanting rid of dumped horses in recent weeks.
Both owners and the charity itself have seen costs rise, with feed, upkeep and stabling costs increasing, while unscrupulous breeders continue to boost the equine population when there is no market for them.
Over breeding has seen horse trading prices plummet, with animals selling at markets in the region for as little as £10, which has led to “irresponsible” owners taking the reins who refuse to spend any money on their animals’s upkeep.
Karen Stirk, volunteer fundraiser and trustee at Hope Pastures, told the YEP: “Horses have evolved with us and now they’re just on the scrap heap.
“The recent horse meat scandal has probably raised this issue of overproduction where there are far more horses produced than are actually needed.”
She said young colts are the main group of horses that are being abandoned as they are “almost worthless” to people who breed, while they require passports, vaccinations, castration and worming which can cost around £400.
Many of the animals collected by the charity are emaciated, starving and parasite-ridden after being dumped by their owners.
Ms Stirk said: “It’s not uncommon for a horse to be 30 years old. Quite often you will have families that bought them when they were young, but when the children have left home the families have got these horses that they don’t want.
“It’s really hard to understand that, once that child grows up a bit and the horse gets old and can’t be ridden, people can just cast it aside as if it was an old car.”
Leeds City Council does not have its own horse pound, so police are called to the majority of stray or escaped horses found in the city and private contractors often remove the animals.
If an animal’s owner fails to come forward, or the horse is not rehomed within three weeks, the animal can be put down.
Sophie Kendrick, yard manager At Hope Pastures, said: “They think if the horse is only worth £20, what’s the point in paying hundreds of pounds to get them out.
“I attend the horse market in York every month and I have been doing for 10 years and horses on average usually used to sell for a couple of hundred pounds and now they’re selling for as little as £10.”
She said the rescue is currently looking at renting more grazing land as its own land has been overused in its bid to cope with the extra demand.
Attempts to address over breeding, such as Defra’s introduction of horse passports so that all horses are legally registered to their owners, have so far failed to stop some breeders from harvesting large numbers of horses and abandoning many young.
Hope Pastures’ own stables are currently full with around 30 horses, while it has another 28 animals on loan at other homes, 10 in temporary £100-a-week foster homes and a waiting list of 60 animals that are in desperate need of rehoming.
The charity, run by a team of six trustees, volunteers and a few paid staff, is the only horse, pony and donkey rescue in Leeds, although the Eccup branch of the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust sanctuary takes in donkeys.
Ms Kendrick said: “Since I’ve worked here I would say the situation regarding abandoned horses is definitely about 10 times worse.”
Leeds has long been associated with horses, with the iconic Tetley Brewery Shire horses that carted beer across Leeds for almost 200 years up to 2006, while a horse-drawn Leeds tram dating back to 1898 is currently being restored at Middleton Railway, in Hunslet.
But in October, Redwings, Britain’s largest charity for abandoned horses, published a report stating England and Wales was on the verge of “equine crisis” due to the economic climate and over breeding.
Last year 768 horses and ponies were reported to Redwings as abandoned compared to 160 in 2009. The RSPCA took in more than twice the number of horses, 304, between April 2011 and March 2012 as it did the previous year.
The RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, said: “We have a perfect storm of horses continuing to be bred and imported to the UK adding to a rising population and people, suffering under the economic climate, cutting back on animal care bills.”
Hope Pastures is keen to hear from people who have experience of owning horses who might be able to offer its animals a temporary home.
For details, or to donate, visit www.hopepastures.org or call 0113 2614344.
* 768 horses reported to charity Redwings as abandoned in 2012
* 50% increase in number of horses taken in by World Horse Welfare from 2006 to 2011
* 304 horses taken in by the RSPCA from April 2001 to March 2012
* 716 complaints to the RSPCA’s cruelty line relating to horses in Leeds in 2012