12 February, 2011

Horse Sport Ireland statement on horse welfare:

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The governing body of equine sports in Ireland: Horse Sport Ireland now believes that recent Overseas Media coverage and public opinion of “abandoned horses” in the country, attributed in most sources, to the worsening economic situation between 2008 and now has been exaggerated, especially in the international media. Is this so? What are your ACTUAL EXPERIENCES?
Firstly let us examine typical comments – in the British “Daily Telegraph” and its sister “Sunday Telegraph” . Their general belief based on their findings is that such a significant problem does exist and in support of those views they extensively quoted various Irish sources, though NOT ‘ interestingly enough ‘Horse Racing Ireland’ .
“Horses are being abandoned across the country,” Barbara Bent, chairman of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA).
“Before the crisis, people were prepared to look after old or poorly - bred animals. Now they are just being dumped in wood lands in the middle of the night. It’s a huge problem – and no one is prepared to take responsibility.”
“Back in the Celtic Tiger days, when the economy was booming, there was space for all of these animals,” Mrs Bent said.
“People bought horses as status symbols. Builders, plumbers, postmen would make a fortune, move out of the cities, buy a house in the country, and take on a few horses.
“But now, that’s unrealistic. People are stuck with huge mortgages and no job. What will happen when the summer grasses die off and feeding becomes expensive?”
Telegraph reporters visited various parts of Ireland including a visit to Monasterevin dealer, Miley Cash, who has been finding it more and more difficult to sell horses during the economic crisis.
“This country is polluted with horses,” Mr Cash said. “Fewer and fewer people are buying. Some people have bought horses, then returned them to me as they just can’t afford to keep them. And a mare in foal is worth nothing”.
He added: “Before the financial crisis, people were buying all kinds of rubbish from unscrupulous dealers, and money was not a problem. But I think that sadly a cull of those dirt-poor horses with no breeding may be the answer.”
Here I would stress that the Telegraphs reports are not unique and similar stories have appeared elsewhere in the World with increasing frequency., interestingly all with the same theme and almost all quoting official or semi-official Irish sources.
In a detailed statement today, Horse Sport Ireland had this to say :
“Recent statements that 20,000 horses are abandoned and neglected in Ireland are exaggerated and cannot be substantiated in any way. There are incidents of straying horses in some urban areas and in other pockets in Ireland. A small number of these horses are neglected which is unacceptable but the perception being created abroad that straying horses are all former racehorses or sport horses that have been abandoned due to the economic decline is not accurate.
“The problem of urban and straying horses is a complex societal issue and one that predates the economic boom and subsequent decline. Legislation to deal with this matter of straying horses, namely The Control of Horses Act was introduced in Ireland as early as 1996.”
“The Control of Horses Act of 1996 is enforced by Local Authorities in Ireland. Provisional figures show that 1,825 horses were impounded by Local Authorities under this Act in 2010. Over 1,000 of these were seized in Dublin, Cork City or Limerick City. Subsequently, 1,478 of these horses were actually reclaimed by their owner or re-homed.
“Many straying horses have owners as evidenced by the reclaim rate at Local Authority Pounds. However, many of these owners have insufficient knowledge on how to look after horses and consequently this occasionally results in incidents of neglect which is totally unacceptable.
“Our sector regularly produces booklets and information on responsible horse ownership and horse welfare for distribution to our members. However, the challenge is to communicate effectively with horse owners who are not involved in any organised equestrian activities.”
“Within the Equestrian sector it is important that if horses are being sold at the end of their competitive or breeding career, that they are sold to a reputable source for an alternative use. However, this is not always possible and while nobody likes to see a horse being destroyed, humane destruction/licensed slaughter is often the most responsible way of disposing of an unwanted horse.
“There is increased recognition of this across the sector including by the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which comprises representatives from a number of organisations including veterinary and animal welfare bodies. In 2010, over 7,000 horses were slaughtered in licensed abattoirs in Ireland under official veterinary supervision. This was over double the 2009 number.” (See Table 1.1 Below)
Table 1.1 – Horses slaughtered in licensed abattoirs
Year 2008: Number of horses 2,002
Year 2009: Number of horses 3,220
Year 2010: Number of horses 7,009
“While the issue of straying horses, particularly in urban areas is a long standing problem, the increase in the production of horses in Ireland has made horses more accessible and reduced their value. However, the number of foals being born in Ireland has declined significantly over the past two years (see Table 1.2 below). Between 2009 and 2010 the number of foals registered fell by almost 25%.
Table 1.2 Foal registration numbers
Year 2008: Thoroughbreds – Weatherby’s 12,419. Non-Thoroughbred Horse Sport Ireland 10,424
Year 2009: Thoroughbreds – Weatherby’s 10,100. Non-Thoroughbred Horse Sport Ireland 9,142
Year 2010: Thoroughbreds – Weatherby’s 7,588. Non-Thoroughbred Horse Sport Ireland 7,004 (to date)
“The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have an outstanding traceability system in place for cattle, sheep and pigs. If a similar traceability system was introduced for horses it would mean that owners could be held to account for the condition of their animals.”
Joe Walsh (pictured right): Horse Sport Ireland
“While everybody in the sector is very conscious of the need for responsible horse ownership, the way this situation is being presented by some individuals and groups is overstated and unbalanced. While there are incidences of straying and neglected horses which is totally unacceptable, this is a complex societal problem which pre-dates the economic boom. Love of the horse is a deep rooted tradition in Ireland and the vast majority of horses in Ireland are very well cared for by their owners,” he said.
Having read a number of reports on the subject both in the Irish Media and Internationally (written media and websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter et all, the fact remains that there IS a huge problem which needs to be tackled urgently. I can see nothing that would suggest that it is the overseas media that is exaggerating the problem. Most of the reports are stemming from quotation from reputable official agencies in Ireland.
One must agree with Horse Sport Ireland that the figure of 20,000 cannot be substantiated but it is surely time for the Government (when there is one) to get these agencies together, working out a plan, under government control to ensure that these problems do not continue.
If they do then it is inevitable that Horse Sport Ireland’s worst fears will be realised and even greater damage will be done to the industry. Back in 2008, Horse Sport Ireland’s Chairman, Joe Walsh (himself a former Minister of Agriculture) was even then raising the “Traceability” issue. So what has happened since then to implement that or other alternatives? And yet it goes on. And on. Action speaks louder than words and the new Minister must take heed.
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