Online horse sales: Buyer beware, but more oversight needed – charity

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A British charity has called for closer scrutiny of online horse sales, where descriptions of horses are not always accurate, leading to welfare issues for animals.

Earlier article: Don’t get scammed on internet horse deals!

Blue Cross tracked several equine classified websites over a period of 12 weeks during August to November of 2017.

“Currently there are no laws around the selling of animals online. With the UK in the midst of an equine welfare crisis involving too many horses and not enough knowledgeable homes, the ease of online buying and selling is causing some horses to fall into inappropriate hands and an uncertain future,” the charity said.

“Horse charities are left to pick up the pieces, putting their limited resources under serious strain.”

In its preliminary investigation last year, Blue Cross recruited a team of volunteers to track six equine classified websites and Facebook.

A total of 3340 unique selling adverts were tracked and the contents analysed.

“Selling a horse online appears to be an emerging market,” says Blue Cross education officer Kerry Taylor. “On 22 August alone there were 8061 ads selling one or more horses on the six classified sites we tracked.”

While 76% of all adverts described a riding horse or pony, 28% of all adverts used terminology that implied the horse was not straightforward, needed work, was young and inexperienced, or displayed behavioural problems.

“Although this might not cause a problem for an experienced, knowledgeable home,” Taylor said,  “it could make it hard to assess the horse accurately in a short period of time when looking to buy. This could lead to buyers purchasing a horse that is unsuitable for them, raising concerns about the future welfare of such animals and potential safety risks for the purchasers.”

Amy West* is one such owner. She bought a 17.1hh Irish Draught cross via an online advert. He was sold as having been backed as a three-year-old and left to mature. He was described as easy to handle. Amy, who is an experienced rider, took things slowly and gave the horse six months of groundwork training but he took off when long reined and bucked his rider off persistently. Amy eventually uncovered the horse’s past and found that he had been in several loan homes and had been taken back by the seller because of behavioural issues.

Blue Cross also identified the promotion of breeding as a cause for concern in online advertisements. Although the number of horses listed with a potential use for breeding was small, at 1%, the quality of such adverts flagged health and welfare concerns.

One mare advertised as suitable as a companion or broodmare was described as permanently lame with a previously broken pelvis rendering her unrideable. However, the advert went on to say that ‘it doesn’t impact on her ability to be bred from and she foaled fine this year with no assistance.’

“This is a grave welfare concern and an example of passive promotion of indiscriminate breeding,” Taylor said. “In no capacity is it acceptable to advertise a severely injured animal for breeding purposes.”

Blue Cross is currently campaigning for urgent change legislation to protect the tens of thousands of small animals sold online each year. While the charity is aware that the breeding and sales of horses holds many differences to the sales of small animals such as dogs and cats it believes that the horse sales situation in the UK needs a form of regulation.

Blue Cross’s initial recommendations on how the UK’s horse industry can make a start in addressing some of the potential welfare concerns raised include legislation where the government to develop regulations around online sales of animals. It also recommended that other selling mechanisms such as auctions and markets are investigated; and further education on the responsibilities of horse ownership.

Taylor added: “Blue Cross is urging government to address the growing issues around the online sale of pets and look more closely at the particular problems horse owners face when buying and selling online and the subsequent welfare concerns that can arise.

“Education is also key to tackling this problem and we hope our research and advice will encourage new horse owners to make a more informed choice.”

Buying a horse online? Follow these tips
  1. First-time buyer research – horses are a huge commitment, so it is really important to think carefully about whether you have the time, dedication, requisite knowledge and money to care for a horse properly. If you do decide to become a horse owner, really take the time to consider the right horse for your circumstances and experience. First think about what you want to do with your horse, the best breeds for your chosen equestrian pursuits, the age and experience of the horse that you feel you will be most comfortable with and your budget. Taking the time at this stage can help you pick the most suitable horse for you to give you the best chance of a happy future together. Don’t rule out rehoming from a welfare charity. There are some wonderful horses searching for homes.
  1. Be rigorous – Once you have identified a potentially suitable horse to visit, ask questions, as many questions as you can. Make use of that initial call and set expectations of what you will want to see the horse do. Trust your gut and remember you are in control; it is your decision. Never purchase a horse without seeing it first and try not to be led with your heart rather than your head. You are better to walk away if unsure, but if you are concerned about a horse’s health or welfare then contact a horse charity for advice.
  1. Set them up for the future – once you have bought your horse, give him or her time. Let them settle and ask the previous owner as much about their current management as possible. A new environment can be stressful for a horse so keeping parts of their routine the same might help them settle. If you have concerns about your new horse, it may be helpful to contact the owner again to ask for some advice. You could also speak to a reputable behaviourist. Many unwanted behaviours displayed by a horse might be down to unsuitable management, or pain, so these things need to be ruled out before any improvements can take place.

» Essential guidance on buying a horse

*the owner did not wish her real name to be used

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