April 11, 2008

Kerstin Alford, Director of Equine Welfare at The Blue Cross at left, with Blue Cross Dee Dee, the youngest equine resident; staff at the Northiam centre; and Blue Cross Garlic, the oldest equine resident.

The Blue Cross animal charity has converted its well-known equine centre in Northiam, East Sussex into the charity's first dedicated centre for permanently retired and resting Blue Cross horses and ponies. The facility was officially declared open at a public event last weekend.

"There are currently more than 500 Blue Cross horses and ponies in loan homes around the country and as they get older they will need increasing levels of care that the borrower may not be able to provide," said Kerstin Alford, Blue Cross Director of Equine Welfare.

"The new facility at Northiam means that should any of our equines need to come back to us and not be suitable for further rehoming, they can spend the rest of their days in a peaceful sanctuary with the specialist care they deserve."

The Blue Cross rehomes equines on a 'monitored loan' basis, which means that they remain under the ownership of the charity, receive regular visits from equine field officers, and can return to The Blue Cross at any time if their borrower's circumstances change.

The charity will continue rehabilitating and rehoming horses and ponies at its two equine centres in Burford, Oxfordshire and Rolleston, Staffordshire. Resting or retired equines that are not suitable for rehoming will be transferred to Northiam, which will free up the other centres to help even more needy animals. Last year, The Blue Cross successfully placed more than 100 horses and ponies into approved homes.

The rest and retirement centre in Northiam is perfectly placed in the peaceful Sussex countryside with capacity for up to 30 horses and ponies. It benefits from a central yard, 35 acres of grazing divided into several smaller paddocks sheltered by hedging and trees, and a range of field shelters with all-weather turnout areas.

The centre already has 23 equine residents, the majority of which are permanently retired due to age or medical conditions that require extra special care. It is also home to a small number of youngsters, typically up to three years old, before they are ready to be transferred to one of the other centres for training and rehoming.

Staff work with the young horses during their stay, getting them used to being handled and starting some groundwork training including lunging and long-reining. They are also turned out with some of the older and wiser equine residents who help to teach them manners.

Kerstin Alford continued: "Horses and ponies come to The Blue Cross for a variety of reasons, invariably through no fault of their own. Our dedicated rehoming and retirement facilities mean that we can offer them a lifetime of security, regardless of their age, health or behavioural needs. Whatever their past, we can offer them a brighter future."

Blue Cross Garlic, a 27-year-old Shetland, is currently the oldest pony at the rest and retirement centre. He has been in the care of The Blue Cross for the past 16 years and was ridden and shown regularly when he was on loan with his first borrower. His second borrower had Garlic as a companion for another pony and it was only when that pony sadly died that Garlic was returned to Northiam for retirement. He still has a very important role to play as a popular member of The Blue Cross sponsor-a-pony scheme.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Blue Cross Dee Dee is currently the youngest horse at the centre. A two-year-old Shire, she came to The Blue Cross in January in a poor physical state. Due to indiscriminate breeding she has a roach back which may prevent her from becoming a ridden horse. She also has a withered eye in which she is blind and she is very underweight. Already 15hh, she is not yet full grown so she will stay in Northiam for the foreseeable future for rest and recovery under the care of centre staff.

The rest and retirement centre at Northiam will care for returning or resting Blue Cross equines, but it does not have the capacity to take in other horses for retirement.