‘Think Before You Breed’ aims to stop the over-production of poor quality horses and ponies in the UK. Many people may find it surprising that the British Horse Society is campaigning to reduce the number of horses in this country, however the evidence that equine over-production is a significant welfare problem is overwhelming, and something needs to be done to prevent the suffering of more horses and ponies in the UK.
Accurately gauging the number of horses currently in the United Kingdom is impossible. The most recent and widely accepted estimate came from the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) survey conducted in 2006 which placed the number at 1.35 million. However, there are very reasonable grounds for considering this to be an underestimation.
It’s clear that there are more horses, ponies and donkeys than there are experienced and knowledgeable homes available to care for them. At the end of 2007, 11,476 horses were in the care of member charities of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) alone. Anecdotally all charities and sanctuaries are reporting an increase in the number of admissions or requests for admission which is, at least in part, due to the recession.
Few industries have escaped the recession and the financial climate has had a major effect on horse sales. The market has slowed dramatically with even quality horses selling for far lower prices than they previously achieved. The situation is far more serious at the bottom end of the market with poor quality animals regularly achieving less than the price of a tank of petrol. Horse and Hound (20/12/08) reported ponies being sold at a North Wales market for just £35 and The Irish Times carried a story about animals changing hands for as little as €20 or being swapped for a computer game.
There has to be concern for the fate of such cheap animals. Horses and ponies are complex animals with specific needs and are likely to suffer if bought by inexperienced or unknowledgeable people. Additionally, while the purchase price is decreasing, the costs of keeping a horse are markedly on the increase meaning that anyone lured into horse-ownership because they now find the initial outlay affordable is likely to run into financial difficulties caring for their animal. The net result is that yet more horses will suffer.
The evidence that there is significant equine overproduction in the UK is overwhelming. However, tackling the issue is not straightforward. A multi-faceted approach is required to address each of the individual equine sectors appropriately.
Raising funds for such work is extremely difficult. However, the argument is strong that the vast majority of equine welfare cases are a direct result of over-production.