Appleby bustles with 10,000 travellers for annual horse fair

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Charities have been out in force at this year’s historic week-long Appleby Horse Fair in England, which draws thousands of travellers.

Horse welfare groups have been monitoring the horses and lending a hand where they can to ensure the wellbeing of the animals.

In the first 24 hours, the RSPCA said it provided welfare advice on 56 occasions, issued two warnings, and removed one horse for veterinary treatment.

The two warnings related to people over-exercising their horses in the hot weather.

“People exercising horses at the fair over the next few days need to do so with great care in the warm weather, so their horses have enough water and don’t become exhausted,” RSPCA chief inspector Rob Melloy said.

“An exhausted horse can take more than 24 hours to recover. Our officers and the volunteers from other animal welfare charities working here will be proactively working to address this issue.”

Debris from the River Eden © RSPCA
Debris from the River Eden © RSPCA

RSPCA Frontline tweeted that the following day had been busy, with 89 minor incidents, four warnings given, and four horses being cared for by veterinarians.

The fair attracts around 10,000 gypsies and travellers, and more than 30,000 other visitors each year. It transforms the town of Appleby for a week, boosting its normal population of around 2500.

The fair has been in existence for at least 300 years, and probably longer. It is the largest horse fair in Britain and amongst the oldest in Europe.

Police have reported few disorder incidents so far, although they took precautionary measures to safeguard fair-goers at the Market Fields of Appleby in light of “potential disorder relating to a specific feud between different families”.

Ahead of the fair, RSPCA officers had pulled on drysuits to sweep the River Eden to clear it of any debris.

RSPCA staff removed about half a tonne of dangerous debris from the spot popular for the washing of horses. The rubbish included gates, fence posts and rusty farm equipment.

Melloy said the rubbish could have been a real danger to horses and people.

“It is something we usually do before the fair starts, which I’m not sure people realise, but this year we wanted to put extra emphasis on it given the recent floods.”

The charity is also being vigilant over another potential welfare issue – people leaving dogs in cars on hot days. It is a particular issue with day trippers to the fair.

“They bring their pets with them, realise it’s not a safe environment and put them in the car, then we end up with a problem.”

The RSPCA was working with the Cumbria Constabulary on the issue, taking a zero tolerance approach. “Where dogs are considered to be in danger they will be removed by any means necessary.”

The RSPCA is the lead animal welfare organisation at the fair. It has 31 officers there during peak times, including specialist equine officers from across England and Wales.

The charities Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, the Donkey Sanctuary, Redwings and World Horse Welfare are also attending.

The Blue Cross has eight grooms and education staff attending. There are four grooms/horse handlers from Bransby Horses, a vet and members of the welfare advisory team from the Donkey Sanctuary, three vets, two field officers and an education manager from Redwings, and four field officers and one welfare support officer from World Horse Welfare.

A vet station is being run at Salt Tip Corner where help can be sought for any animal that needs it.

Education staff and volunteers from all five of the animal welfare charities – all members of the National Equine Welfare Council – along with the British Horse Society – will also be manning an information and education tent on Salt Tip Corner where gypsies and travellers can share knowledge and discuss issues relating to horse care.

The fair is at its busiest this weekend, with Sunday traditionally the main day for visitors.

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