A just-released report commissioned by a European Union agency includes an effort to estimate the number of horses and other equines living across Europe, coming up with a total of 6,994,510.
The estimate is contained in a report prepared by the British-based charity World Horse Welfare and Eurogroup for Animals, entitled Removing the Blinkers: The Health and Welfare of European Union Equidae in 2015.
The report provides a snapshot of equidae and the equine sector across the continent, identifies welfare problems, analyses existing laws that affect horses, and recommends how legislation can better protect these animals.
The authors found that the equine sector provided employment for at least 896,000 people across the EU and was worth more than €100 billion a year. The sector used at least 2.6 million hectares of land across Europe, the report said.
They said that the “simple” question of how many horses and other equidae lived in Europe had proven almost impossible to answer. There appeared to be no standard method for data collection among member states and, in general, there was little information available.
Gathering information from various sources, the report provided the lowest figure given for each nation and the highest, before arriving at an average from all responses, which were used to rank the nations.
France topped the list, with an estimated 840,259 equidae, with estimates ranging from about 460,000 to 1 million. The United Kingdom was not far behind, with an estimated 796,000 equidae.
Romania was third, on 728,814, followed by Spain on 681,331, Belgium on 535,897 and Germany on 480,500.
The top 10 European nations were rounded out by Italy on 468,851, the Netherlands on 293,500, Poland on 276,188 and Sweden with 229,000.
At the other end of the scale, Malta had only 1860 horses.
The European Equestrian Federation estimates the total horse population within its area of interest at about 4.5 million, with about 1.7 million of them registered with national equestrian federations for sporting purposes.
However, based on the authors’ average estimate of the total equine population contained in the report, this would put the donkey and mule population around 2.5 million. By contrast, the statistics division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, put the number of donkeys and mules in the EU in 2013 at 650,000 – representing some 15 percent of its estimate of the total equine population of 4.5 million.
Based on the authors’ estimate of just under 7 million equidae, they calculated that the highest per capitl equine population in Europe, with one equid per 21 people, was Belgium, followed by Romania and Ireland. Slovaki had the lowest ration, with just one horse per 1000 individuals.
The wide-ranging 121-page report, released last Thursday, delivered a raft of recommendation directed at EU agencies and other competent authorities.
The authors urged the European Commission to initiate a study to analyse the economic and social impact of all aspects of the equine sector.
They called for species-specific equine welfare legislation. Equidae often fell between the cracks of legislation designed for farm or companion animals, they said.
Competent authorities should always ensure that they considered the specific needs of equidae when drafting animal welfare policy, rather than assuming that they would always be covered by broad regulation pertaining either to livestock or pets, they said.
Equine welfare in sports and leisure should be given a priority equal to that of the safety of the rider, and higher than other considerations, the report said.
The authors also recommended better slaughterhouse monitoring.
One of the authors, World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers, said the report provided a long overdue insight into the EU’s equine sector, and the welfare challenges faced by horses.
“We are talking about a relatively small population of seven million animals – but one that generates at least €100 billion to the EU, often in rural areas where we are in dire need of more growth and development.
“We cannot allow this sector to continue being ignored at European level, either in terms of the health and welfare issues, or in terms of securing a sound future for a sector that has traditionally been one of the prides of Europe, that is proving to be such a valuable export industry and that is still so relevant to European society today,” he said.
The director of Eurogroup for Animals, Reineke Hameleers, said the report identified a real need for better and harmonised protection of equids through species-specific legislation as well as non-legislative guidance on responsible ownership.
“We will use this research as an important conversation-opener with all EU stakeholders, and it will form the basis of our policy agenda for at least the next five years.
“Now is the time for the European Commission to take action and launch the first proper impact assessment of any future legislation affecting equines and start addressing the concerns raised.”