The Unwanted Horse – an equine welfare crisis in the UK

There is a worldwide problem of abandoned and neglected horses.  Sadly these beautiful and willing creatures have been used and abused by humankind ever since they were first domesticated.  The UK is not exempt from blame – the problem of unwanted horses has increased here in recent years, brought about by a number of variables including overbreeding, an increase in horse ownership by people with little or no previous knowledge and experience of handling and caring for equines, and the economic recession.

There is a big problem in South Wales, particularly along the M4 corridor and there have been many instances where dumped and abandoned horses and ponies have made headline news.  The sheer levels of cruelty and neglect are appalling.   Last year, twelve horses were found locked in a barn, with no space or access to food or water.  They were very underweight and suffering from various untreated conditions.  An RSPCA Inspector, Christine McNeil was reported by the Monmouthshire Beacon, 19th June 2013 as saying, “These horses turned out to be the most poorly and diseased horses I have come across.  It is my belief that the 12 in the barn had been left there to die.”  The owner, a Vale of Glamorgan horse trader, Thomas Price, whose family is thought to own around 2,500 horses, was eventually found guilty of 57 offences of causing unnecessary suffering and failing to meet the needs of 27 horses, and his sons were also prosecuted for similar offences.  Tragically such examples of extreme cruelty cases are reported on a regular basis from all over the country.

The practice of ‘fly-grazing, where owners ‘dump’ horses and ponies on empty areas of land and abandon them there, with land-owners powerless to act has increased in recent years too.  The Welsh Government is currently undertaking a formal period of consultation on the need for stronger legislation to deal with fly-grazing which must be hoped will act as a deterrent.  See

The equine welfare crisis in the UK is not going away, and is exacerbated by unscrupulous horse traders and indiscriminate overbreeding; the market is flooded with unwanted horses, and the equine welfare charities are stretched to capacity -bursting at the seams with the constant inflow of rescues, some of which are pregnant mares, so the problem of rehabilitation and rehoming is doubled once they are taken into the rescue centres.

One charity that knows all about the crises only too well is one of which I am a member, the wonderful Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies, whose horse hospital is based in St. Maughans, outside Monmouth in Gwent.  At any one time there are around 50 horses and ponies at the centre, in various stages of treatment, rehabilitation, training and rehoming.  They are always very busy and always fundraising in order to keep the charity afloat.

A regular event in the calendar is the Summer Open Day, which was held on July 7th this year in glorious sunshine, which brought out the crowds – around 700 people arrived to see the rescued horses and ponies, the falconry stand, join in the dog show, browse all the stalls and enjoy the hog roast.  I attended and had a marvellous time chatting to people about my company and how it supports the SWHP by giving 5% of profits to this charity, but most of all, seeing at first hand the rescues for myself.  The before and after stories that were attached to the stable doors were an emotional read – it was hard to believe that the healthy, glowing ponies nuzzling my hands were once the emaciated, or wounded, very poorly animals shown in the ‘before’ photographs.  All due credit must go to the people who care for the rescues so effectively and are able to ‘turn them around’ to become the horse or pony they were always meant to be – sometimes in just a few short months.  There is no substitute for expert knowledge and tender, loving care.  The philosophy underpinning the SWHP was articulated by Mrs. Jenny MacGregor MBE, the Chairman when she told us “They don’t ask to be born, but now that they have been, they deserve to live.”

Pony Charity 5% donation by comparing insurance

The photograph shows Shetland pony Belle, who was found wandering on the road near Devauden in March, along with her Shetland stallion companion.  It seems they had been abandoned in a field since the previous October, wearing their headcollars all that time. Belle was pregnant.  Her tiny foal, Muffin, was one of the star attractions at the Open Day, being only 2 weeks old and incredibly cute.  He seemed completely unfazed by all the people cooing over him!

Jenny’s commentary during the parade of rescues was moving; she knew the history of every horse or pony intimately; her stories of how they came to be there and what progress they’ve made really engaged the watching crowd.  You can find an album of photographs from the Open Day on Care and Compare’s  Facebook Page:

c.£5,500 was raised on the day – every penny needed to continue the wonderful work that the SWHP does for horses in desperate straights.

For more information on the SWHP, go to their informative website where you will be able to read all about the rescues, see which ones are ready for rehoming, and how you might help with fundraising.


About Dr. Elaine Atkins

Author, Therapist and Communications Director at
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