Several equine charities and a veterinary school stepped in to help an overwhelmed owner of more than 70 horses in Cambridgeshire in the east of England.
With the horses breeding indiscriminately, the owner admitted that her horse numbers had got out of hand and that she was struggling to cope with providing the necessary care for them all.
A call to World Horse Welfare’s Welfare Line by a member of the public concerned about the horses led to one of the charity’s Field Officers, Chris Shaw, visiting the site and speaking with the owner, who was keen to help improve the conditions for her horses.
World Horse Welfare make arrangements with other organisations for assistance, including Redwings, Bransby Horses, the British Horse Society (BHS) and Cambridge Veterinary School.
Representatives from each have been present at the site, working closely together, over the past few weeks. Each horse is being caught and then examined by the vets who are treating each animal for worms and lice, and any farriery and dental needs are seen to at the same time. The horses are then passported and microchipped by the BHS. An important part of this processing of each animal is the gelding of each of the colts and stallions by the Cambridge vets to prevent the number of animals increasing again. The owner is paying for the passporting and castrations.
Shaw said the family started with far fewer horses, but as none were castrated the herd size grew and the owners became overwhelmed.
“We would always rather work with the owners, and it is really brilliant seeing the owner of these horses getting stuck in and helping us as we deal with them. The owner is learning so much more about what is needed to look after and manage them and having had her eyes opened to the problems she is genuinely keen to make it right. All the charities involved would always prefer to work with the owners to improve conditions for their horses rather than removing the animals, that is a last resort.”
Cambridge Vet School Equine Clinician Avice O’Connor said that as well as tending to the needs of the horses, the case provided an opportunity for students to experience a situation they have probably never seen before.
“Catching and dealing with unhandled, feral animals, the higher sedation levels required, and the challenges of field surgery are all different to the well looked after ‘pet’ horses we normally deal with,” she said.
“I’m blown away by how everybody from the different organisations has come together and worked as a team, all working towards a common goal of improving the welfare of the horses. The students have learned that every part of the process is of equal importance, with everyone playing a vital role.”
Now the sizeable herd is being dealt with, the owner intends to rehome some of the animals to further reduce the numbers and this will be more straightforward since they have been microchipped, passported and gelded. She is keen to focus on caring more thoroughly for a smaller group of animals and the remaining horses will be monitored closely by World Horse Welfare Field Officers who will continue to work with her, offering support and advice and, if required, practical assistance.
A small number of horses, with more serious welfare concerns, were taken off-site by World Horse Welfare and Redwings, and the owner has signed those over to the charities. They will be treated and rehabilitated before being offered for rehoming when they are ready.
Many of these horse welfare cases first come to light by a call being made to World Horse Welfare’s confidential Welfare Line, 0300 333 6000, which receives thousands of calls each year. The charity relies on donations to maintain the line, and an appeal is asking for caring people to donate just £3 a month to ensure its continuation.