The cost of horse keeping is a major concern to British horse owners, a survey has found.
World Horse Welfare, which was behind the survey, said it was carried out to provide a picture of the British equine community, including their thoughts on topics such as horse welfare in sports, costs of horse keeping and equine disease.
The findings revealed that Britain's equine community are clearly feeling the pinch as the growing costs of keeping their horses continue to bite.
More than 80 per cent of those who responded said costs were their first or second most pressing concern, while almost half cited access to safe riding as a priority.
In contrast, only one in four ranked the risk of infectious disease highly, despite the emergence last year of the first cases of Equine Infectious Anaemia in Britain for three decades.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said everyone involved with horses in Britain should remain vigilant against infectious disease.
"While there are many ways to reduce the costs of caring for horses without compromising welfare, cutting back on vaccinations is not one of them."
The overall perception of horse welfare in sports is quite positive, but some are considered to be better than others.
When asked, "How well do you think the treatment of horses is regulated in the following sports?", eventing came out on top, with 84 per cent of respondents rating the treatment of horses as either "quite well", "well-regulated" or "very well-regulated". This was followed by dressage at 80 per cent, showjumping at 77 per cent and endurance at 74 per cent.
Meanwhile, around one in four thought the regulation of treatment of horses in flat racing and jump racing was "quite poor, poor or very poor", and almost one in five think the same for polo and hunting.
Owers said: "World Horse Welfare supports the ethical use of horses in sport which is a source of great enjoyment for people and horses alike.
"As the welfare arm of the Federation Equestrian Internationale and a welfare adviser to the British Horseracing Authority, we know that for the most part horses in all sports are treated well.
"However, this research shows that there is clearly a public perception that some sports treat horses better than others.
"That is why it is more important than ever that equestrian sport organisations and the athletes themselves must be vigilant about horse welfare - in their rules, their attitudes and their actions.
"When someone breaks the rules, they should have the book thrown at them - and thrown at them hard. The horses don't deserve poor treatment and the public won't tolerate it.
"Where possible, World Horse Welfare will work with the organisations governing these sports to help address these perceptions and recommend changes where necessary."
Other survey results include:
• An overwhelming majority (69 per cent) think the 80 per cent increase of horse riders in the last 10 years is a good thing and 49 per cent think there has also been a corresponding improvement in horse knowledge in the past 10 years. The main sources for knowledge (respondents were able to choose more than one source) are given as magazines (76 per cent), Vets and farriers (73 per cent), websites (64 per cent) and friends (63 per cent).
Factors behind rise in welfare cases:
• The significant rise in horse welfare concerns is attributed to different factors depending on whether individual horses are suffering or groups of horses. In the case of individual horses, the most common factors were considered to be "Novice horse owners not knowing how to care for their horse" (83 per cent), "Horse owners not being able to afford to look after their horses properly" (82 per cent) and "Reluctance to put an ill or badly injured horse to sleep at the appropriate time" (67 per cent).
For groups of horses, respondents thought welfare concerns arose most from "Over breeding" (63 per cent), "Unregulated horse sales" (58 per cent), "Horse owners not being able to afford to look after their horses properly" (52 per cent) and "Authorities not intervening" (51 per cent).
For the question "What would improve horse welfare the most", the results showed that over 56 per cent of respondents felt that education was the key.
A third of people believed that proper enforcement of legislation was needed and almost a fifth thought a reduction in overbreeding would help improve horse welfare the most.
The vast majority (87 per cent) of respondents thought owners of obese horses should be educated and only 12 per cent said they should be prosecuted, validating World Horse Welfare's educational approach in addressing obesity.
On a positive note, 92 per cent of respondents believe Great Britain is still a nation of horse lovers.
Coping with costs:
If you are struggling to cope with the rising cost of horse ownership World Horse Welfare's recommendations include: