With most of Britain waterlogged as I write, and horses pictured being rescued from flooded land, we can only hope they have somewhere better to go. Sadly, for many of the 7,000 horses or ponies considered “at risk” going into this winter, that will not be the case. Of these, around 1,500 apparently homeless horses have been identified in South Wales alone, particularly around the ferry ports.
Such is the crisis, the National Assembly for Wales are acting to change the law as fast as is legally possible, with the ultimate aim to eliminate abandonment, flygrazing, and the overproduction of low-value horses or ponies. Local authorities in Wales will be empowered to “seize, impound and dispose of horses” that are either roaming in public places such as roadsides or sports fields, or are found grazing on private land without the landowner’s consent.
Until now, irresponsible owners of abandoned horses have been able to evade the law, concealing their identity and that of the horses, and leaving unprotected land owners responsible for large numbers of horses. This is still the case in England and Scotland. Attempts are slowly making progress to make every horse and pony identifiable, with direct links to their breeder or owner via a passport, or when that’s missing or not valid, a microchip. Inspectors to enforce it will be needed, but the hardest task must be to educate owners to be responsible, so that their horses don’t end up neglected, unwanted or homeless.
Some of these victims could be our Connemara ponies. In Ireland, where the recession has hit hard, and over- breeding is a problem, the culling of pure bred ponies has proved the only option for some owners. Low-value foals are changing hands at sales for the same price as a pet rabbit, while in Britain the situation is fast becoming equally sad. An increasing number of horses and ponies are in need of help, and while there are many admirable welfare charities to investigate and intervene, and in cases of cruelty and neglect many of the lucky ones may be rescued, there are simply not enough suitable homes to provide for them.
It is time for much greater awareness of the seriousness of the situation. Unfortunately, the supply of horses available generally, and of Connemaras too, exceeds demand. The breed has never been more popular than now, as a riding and jumping able pony, and can excel in every discipline, as well as proving a wonderful cross to breed a larger sports or pleasure horse. Their versatility is greater than any other native breed, surely, and they range in type from the small, neat, child’s pony, to the stockier weight carriers, and from sharp, excitable ponies, to the very docile.
Good, correct conformation, athletic paces, jumping ability, courage, temperament, all can be carefully selected in individuals and their bloodlines, with a view to producing a good Connemara pony. It won’t always work of course, but random, indiscriminate breeding from an unsound or badly conformed mare or stallion with poor action or temperament is far more likely to result in undesirable offspring that cannot find a good home. More than ever before, this is to be avoided.
There will always be a keen market for the useful, well-made riding pony, and for good breeding prospects, but the others face a possibly miserable future. A poor individual may be cheap to buy, which can be tempting, but soon reality dawns. Winter comes. Even the hardy Connemara that has thrived on little keep all year, can suffer in harsh conditions, and it will prove as costly to keep as any other pony. The mounting expense of feed, fencing, transport, farriery, vet, and even minimal equipment, can make ownership impossible.
For others, who perhaps go into ownership impulsively, it may be time or knowledge lacking. Unsoundness, unsuitable temperament, old age or a change of personal circumstances are other common causes for wanting to find a pony a new home, but whatever the reason, selling or re-homing an unwanted pony is becoming increasingly difficult.
But “Think twice before rushing to the rescue!” the BHS advises. It is admirable when someone can take on a neglected or unneeded horse and give it a new purpose in life, to avoid a worse fate befalling it, but often this can be unrealistic and it is not always the best solution for the horse or pony. Humane euthanasia is NOT the worst fate, when the alternative is pain or neglect or starvation. Its condition needs to be assessed without delay, preferably by a vet, to prevent further physical or mental suffering.
Keeping or giving away as a companion a much loved but old, and lame pony, is not, I feel, preferable to a quick, peaceful, and dignified end. We owe them that.
Mary Low, BCPS Welfare Officer