International equine charity World Horse Welfare has sounded a cautionary tale after the recent prosecution of an equine rescue centre in North Devon.
The centre at the heart of the prosecution had been warned to improve the conditions of the horses previously; however, when the RSPCA revisited in late summer 2019 four of the horses were in such poor condition they were seized by the RSPCA and became the subject of a prosecution.
The centre also had another 26 horses which did not form part of the prosecution case and, in late 2019, the RSPCA approached NEWC (National Equine Welfare Council), of which World Horse Welfare is a member, for help in rehoming these remaining horses. World Horse Welfare, Mare and Foal Sanctuary, HorseWorld and Blue Cross all took on several of the animals for rehabilitating and, where possible, with an aim of future rehoming.
Some of the reports of this case in the press incorrectly referred to the defendant’s rescue centre as a charity. Animal sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres are completely unregulated and there is no guarantee of even basic welfare standards. Also, some animal welfare organisations are not registered charities, which means their governance is not subject to scrutiny by the Charity Commission, which regulates the governance of charities in England and Wales to ensure that the public can donate to them with confidence.
Licensing and inspection urged
World Horse Welfare said this issue could be resolved by the government introducing licensing and inspections of all sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres and the public ensuring that they do not entrust their animals to an organisation that is unable to properly care for them. The public should check to ensure that they give donations only to registered charities.
Tony Tyler, Deputy Chief Executive at World Horse Welfare, said, there was currently no requirement for sanctuaries, rehoming or rescue centres in the UK to be licensed and inspected.
“This is real cause for concern. Anyone can set one up and, although these are usually set up with the best of intentions, some struggle to provide the necessary care for the animals. It may not be until a member of the public raises concerns about the welfare of the animals that the problem is recognised, by which time the horses and ponies involved can already be suffering.”
World Horse Welfare said it strongly believes that licensing should not unfairly penalise dedicated organisations that strive to offer vulnerable horses a better future, but should give them clear guidance on what they need to do to ensure they are protecting their welfare. However, in those circumstances where welfare is compromised, it would also allow for this to be established more easily and action to be taken and help to prevent a repetition of this recent case and the suffering the four North Devon horses endured.
“There are many good sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres around the country, and those that are members of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) are voluntarily inspected to ensure good welfare standards,” Tyler said.
“However, this is not the case with rescue centres and sanctuaries that are not a part of NEWC, so do ensure you visit any centre you are considering for your horse. Ensuring that all such centres provide good welfare is vital and World Horse Welfare wants to see licensing of rescue centres and sanctuaries enshrined in law with compulsory minimum standards set out in supporting guidance.”
Signing over to a sanctuary
If you are considering signing a horse over to a sanctuary, rehoming or rescue centre, it is currently up to you to check you are happy with their welfare standards and on their charitable status. Whilst they may be meeting good welfare standards, as there is currently no requirement for them to be inspected and licensed if there is a change in circumstance and conditions deteriorate this may not be picked up quickly. In addition, if they are not a registered charity it does mean that their governance and management are not regulated in the same way. This means that there is no guarantee that any money donated to them will be used towards the welfare of their animals.
Tyler said that it was worth bearing in mind that passing on a horse that is no longer able to be ridden or you can no longer afford to keep will also increase the financial burden to the centre it is passed to and “You could, unwittingly, be compromising your horse’s welfare and contributing to the overall problem.”
It is expensive keeping any animal, both in terms of time and money, and this is especially true of horses. As a basic minimum, horses need feed, shelter, regular foot trims and routine veterinary treatment all of which involve ongoing costs. Many of the animals that are homed in rescue centres and sanctuaries are older or have on-going health issues making the cost of keeping them in a healthy state even higher.