Equine charities join forces for welfare at Appleby Horse Fair

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A welfare adviser from The Donkey Sanctuary checks out one of the four-legged attendees at the Appleby Horse Fair.
A welfare adviser from The Donkey Sanctuary checks out one of the four-legged attendees at the Appleby Horse Fair. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Hundreds of horses and donkeys were under the watchful eyes of seven equine charities at this year’s Appleby Horse Fair, the largest horse fair in Britain and among the oldest in Europe.

The annual event, held in the picturesque village of Appleby, Cumbria attracts about 40,000 visitors, with a quarter of those from the travelling community. The fair has been in existence for at least 300 years.

The traditional bathing of the horses before auction at the Appleby Horse Fair.
The traditional bathing of the horses before auction at the Appleby Horse Fair.

A multi-agency team worked to ensure animal welfare remained a priority at this year’s fair, with The Donkey Sanctuary, RSPCA, Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, British Horse Society, Redwings Horse Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare working together to oversee the animals.

The Donkey Sanctuary sent five donkey welfare advisers, one welfare co-ordinator and a vet to the event, between June 7 and June 11.

Over the course of the five-day event, 198 people were given advice, an increase from 168 at last year’s event. The number of warnings also increased from 12 to 14.

“At this year’s fair we have been assisting with monitoring the welfare of equines and offering specialist support to our partners for any donkey and mule related issues,” said Hannah Bryer, head of welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary.

“It’s a great opportunity for The Donkey Sanctuary to engage with fair-goers who may have donkeys at home and to offer advice where needed.”

Leading the multi-agency team, the RSPCA sent 33 officers to this year’s fair. It is the charity’s biggest deployment of staff and the largest multi-agency event of the year.

Winners of the Redwings Welfare Awards receive a rosette, certificate, medal and membership to the Official Traditional Gypsy Cob breed association.
Winners of the Redwings Welfare Awards receive a rosette, certificate, medal and membership to the Official Traditional Gypsy Cob breed association.

RSPCA chief Inspector Rob Melloy about 1200 caravans were counted on Saturday, compared to about 990 last year. “Whilst it’s difficult to count the number of horses it definitely seemed as though numbers were much higher, as you’d expect.

“The higher numbers of advice issued are reflective of a much busier fair during which exhaustion of horses was one of our main concerns. Whilst the warm weather may have played a part, we were seeing people working their horses to the point of failing exhaustion tests and we have four ongoing investigations as a result.”

As part of Redwings’ campaign to recognise and champion horses in outstanding condition, 15 welfare awards were presented by vets with another five junior awards made to the next generation of owners, who all demonstrated excellent care and attention to ensure the health and happiness of their horses.

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