Up to 40 percent of the foals born in the United Kingdom each year do not get microchipped or issued with a passport, as required by law, a leading equine charity says.
World Horse Welfare says the number of foals born across Britain each year is almost impossible to quantify.
The British charity conducted an exercise to assess the number of foals born across the country each year, as part of its campaign to raise awareness of the world’s “invisible horses”.
World Horse Welfare contacted 66 equine passport issuing organisations (PIOs) in the UK to request data on the number of foals recorded by them in 2014.
Data received from the 38 PIOs who responded, combined with an estimate on the others who did not respond, would suggest a total of around 25,000 foals were born and recorded in 2014.
Whilst European Union legislation requires all horses and ponies to have a valid passport and corresponding microchip by the time they reach six months of age, or by December 31 in the year of birth, thousands of foals and youngsters may slip through the net every year as owners may not have them identified and a get passport issued.
The charity’s chief executive, Roly Owers, said: “Our best estimate, based on data received, is that something around 25,000 foals were born and recorded with a PIO in 2014.
“Based on a total UK equine population of 800,000, the true number is likely to be around 40,000, with thousands of foals born every year that are unrecorded and therefore invisible.”
The estimated 16,000 foals that failed to receive a passport or be microchipped represents 38.5 percent of the annual foal crop.
“This may be a crude estimation, but is based on evidence from both World Horse Welfare and a number of other charities and organisations.
“This failure to apply for a passport in time is not only contrary to current EU regulations but it puts these animals at a much higher risk because they are effectively invisible and not on anyone’s radar.
“Whilst a percentage of them may go on to have careers in sport or become leisure animals loved and pampered by their owners, we know that many are just as likely to face an uncertain future because there are simply not enough homes for the number of horses we are producing each year in the UK.”
Owers continued: “Our latest figures show there are more than 4000 horses at risk in the UK and thousands more already in the care of charities, many of whom are struggling with limited capacity and stretched resources.
“World Horse Welfare alone took in over 100 horses in just 40 days before Christmas which represents almost one third of the charity’s maximum stocking level.
“Foals born into this market landscape may struggle to find homes. Those that are on a PIO database are likely to be much better off because their owners are taking responsibility for them by getting them identified, but it’s the foals that are not identified who are a greater concern to us.
“They are invisible to the system, and cannot be linked to anyone responsible for their care.
“In addition, no vet can administer a medicinal product to a horse or pony unless it has a passport so this adds to the problems that these animals may face if they become ill.”
World Horse Welfare is campaigning in 2016 to highlight the world’s invisible horses, who it says often suffer in silence as people either cannot or choose not to see them. They are, it says, often in desperate need of care and protection.