Horse Welfare in Ireland – A Problem?

There has been a lot of media coverage in Ireland over the last 12 months on the increasing problem of abandoned horses and the horse welfare problem.

Even as far back as 2011 the ISPCA was raising concerns that there were in the region of 10,000 to 20,000 horses surplus to requirements on the island. In 2014 the figure of 18,000 horses that were surplus, was given by the United Farmer’s Association who identified small breeders as the main problem, rather than the major industries such as racing.

However the impact of so many unwanted horses is clearly evident in the increasing numbers of welfare cases and the additional burden being placed on equine charities and rehoming centres.

News coverage in 2014 claimed that nearly 3,500 horses had to be seized by welfare authorities in Ireland during the previous year.

Some of the issues covered have included abandoned horses as well as the plight of former racing horses that are no longer required by the sport. The Minister of Agriculture doesn’t see that Ireland has an equine problem (according to several media quotes) so what is happening to those horses that neither owners nor the state seem to want anymore?

Ex-Racehorses

The problem of racehorses retiring and then having no future has already been addressed in a number of other countries, however here in Ireland the Irish Horse Welfare Trust has embarked on its own programme.

Horse racing can be a short career - picture courtesy of "2xgalopp" by Softeis - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2xgalopp.JPG#/media/File:2xgalopp.JPG
Horse racing can be a short career – (picture courtesy of 2xgalopp” by Softeis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons )

The racehorse retraining programme in Ireland uses models based from other countries.

Despite the dedication and hard work it can still take between 6-9 months to retrain a race horse so that it is suitable for use in other horse disciplines.

The retraining programme here is done with sponsorship support from Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association.

Horse Welfare Support

The main cause of concern for horse welfare in Ireland has been the large number of abandoned horses that have appeared since the financial downturn which started here nearly 4 years ago.

In addition to the main horse welfare group IHWT, there are also smaller animal charities that will rescue any animal in danger or that has been abandoned.

Organisations such as Hungry Horse Outside which is based in County Longford and is, as the name suggests, working specifically with abandoned horses. They do education and awareness as well as rescue work. They recently worked closely with their UK colleagues at Henry’s Helping Hoof which is an equine rescue centre based in Lancashire.

Another charity that specialises in horse welfare is Holly’s Horse Haven which is the only cross border (i.e. Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland) organisation in Ireland. The charity also runs an equine therapy programme and so rescued horses are able to benefit from this as well. They are completely run by volunteers and have quite a busy web site which is worth a visit.

Future Work

Perhaps an example that Ireland could consider is to replicate a study such as the US National Animal Health Monitoring System. The study ‘Equine 2015’ is the third national study of the US equine industry.

Previous studies were carried out in 1998 and 2005.  Results can be found on their website from the previous studies, but the new study is seeking to gain clarity on a number of issues including health issues such as lameness and the cost of health related equine issues for equine owners.

Perhaps if our government at least had an idea of the problem, then it could start to develop ways to address the horse welfare problem in Ireland once and for all.

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