Irish officials meet over horse overpopulation

October 18, 2009

Officials in Ireland have met to discuss concerns about horse overpopulation, amid fears the upcoming winter will see some of the animals suffer.

Horse Sport Ireland chairman Joe Walsh led a delegation this week to meet the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith, to discuss horse welfare issues.

The Irish Horse Welfare Trust, represented By Jessica Harrington, Jane Myerscough and Sharon Newsome, was also part of the delegation, as was Barbara Bent from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Walsh, speaking after the meeting, said the large number of horses in the country, coupled with the economic downturn, could result in problems as winter approaches.

Walsh said one of the challenges when dealing with horse issues was that there were many agencies involved. As well as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, local authorities are responsible for implementing the Control of Horses Act, while welfare problems were legally a matter for the police.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food provided funding to local authorities and animal welfare organisations.

"There is no doubt but that we have too many horses in the country and as we head into the winter we want to ensure that we have plans in place to deal with any welfare problems that may arise," Walsh said.

"The meeting was very constructive and the Minister agreed to set up a meeting involving the relevant agencies to ensure that we have the correct protocols in place," he said.

Walsh pointed out that the horse welfare bodies do great work in caring for and re-homing horses, but that there was a limit to what they could do.

"These organisations are stretched and we need to be sure that everybody in the sector plays their part to ensure that all horses are well looked after," he said.

"Everybody who is involved in the sector should be conscious of the problem and not be afraid to offer assistance and advice to neighbours if they are experiencing difficulties. No-one wants to see horses suffering and we all have to play our part," he said.

"One other issue which we stressed at the meeting was the need for a proper traceability system for horses.

"We have excellent traceability systems in place for cattle and sheep but there is no such system for horses.

"For example, people are not obliged to register a change in the ownership of a horse and this means that it can be difficult to hold people to account for the condition of their horses, or in cases of abandoned horses.

"This needs to be looked at urgently, as it would also have major implications if there was a disease outbreak," he said.

In the long term, Walsh said that the country needed to improve its breeding industry to ensure that more valuable horses were bred.

"It will always be the case that quality horses will be valuable and that poor stock will be hard to sell or to find an effective use for.

"This situation is always exacerbated in the economic downturn," he said.

Walsh said that, unfortunately, part of the solution was having more horse slaughtering facilities in the country.

"I understand that the Straffan Horse abattoir has recently re-opened in Kildare and that there are facilities currently operating in Thomastown in Kilkenny and Newcastlewest in County Limerick.

"There are other applications for horse abattoir approval pending and we need these in operation," he said.