The sight of dejected-looking horses at roadsides and in fields is not uncommon in Northamptonshire, and it is often the cause of public concern.
But are there enough laws in place to protect the welfare of all horses and can these animals be traded too easily?
The RSPCA recently hosted a national equine summit which revealed that, in the last year, the number of horses and ponies which have come into the charity’s care because of neglect and cruelty has doubled.
RSPCA chief inspector, Cathy Hyde, said: “Dealers are struggling to sell their horses so their groups are getting larger and larger. In some cases foals are being sold for as little as £1 each at markets, so for unscrupulous dealers it’s easier and more profitable to let horses suffer and die than pay for their care.”
One of the experts at the summit was Sandy Redmore, of Northants HorseWatch, an organisation of volunteers from around the county who work with bodies, such as the police and Northamptonshire County Council Trading Standards, to keep a close eye on horse welfare.
It seems that the key dangers to horses include the fact that many of them can be bought cheaply, sometimes by those who know little about their welfare.
By law, horses need to have ”passports” which should be kept up to date and should belong with the current owner, yet, according to agencies, sometimes horses are traded without the right documents.
Sandy said: “I go to a lot of markets around the country and a lot of it is about what happens in the car parks. You see things like horses being sold off lorries before they go into sales and the question is ‘why are they being sold outside, what is going on?’
“Some owners tend to keep horses in the box all day in a car park and they might have no water and no hay.”
Many issues also come about through the common practice of loaning out horses to temporary homes, which can be done for various reasons.
Sandy said: “We have had cases of horses stolen on loan and two of them had been slaughtered by the time the owner found them.” Although microchipping has now been brought in for horses, many older animals still have no microchips, according to the RSPCA.
Sandy added: “I would love to see more people freeze-marking and microchipping. If the police find a stolen horse it is a nightmare to find out who owns it.”
Tracking a horse’s passport and making sure the animal hasn’t been given more than one is difficult to police, according to trading standards officer, Sam Diamond.
She said: “Once a horse has a passport you aren’t supposed to get them another one. But the trouble with horses is there are nearly 90 issuing organisations, so just because you can’t find a passport for a horse it doesn’t mean you can’t get one. It is a bit of a mess really. There are all these things in place, but they just need tying together.”
With so many horses on the market, it is perhaps unsurprising that animal sancturaries are now full of equines.
Susanna Ellis, owner of Brook Farm Animal Sanctuary, in Raunds, said: “We are being asked to take in horses all the time and we are now full up, we have got 12. There have been many more in the last year or two. We get ex-racehorses and ex-pets who are too old to ride and can’t be sold.”
Northamptonshire Trading Standards officer, Sam Diamond, who specialises in animal health, said there had been issues with people buying horses without knowing the true health or character of the animal.
This can particularly be a problem if horses have been drugged to appear more docile to a buyer or are on medication for a particular condition.
She said: “From a trading standards point of view, people think that if they have bought a horse and it is not right for them, or it turns out not to be as fit as they thought it was, they can complain to us and we can sort it out for them but that is not the case.
“Many people spend thousands of pounds on a horse without really seeing it properly or having the veterinary checks to see if it has been drugged in any way.”
Jo Woolard, from Pitsford, once bought a horse for £2,200, which she now believes had been drugged to appear gentle in character.
When she got it home, its character had changed completely, rearing and charging, and after some effort to help the animal she had to sell it on.
Jo, who is now the happy owner of a well-behaved horse, named Balla, said: “We didn’t know the horse was drugged at the time, we tried the horse and he was fine, he was docile and quiet. But getting him home he was a completely different horse and the seller wouldn’t take him back or give me a refund.”
She added: “I sold him for a lot less money than I paid. I think he had been broken in very quickly and sold. The horse definitely had mental issues.
“Something must have happened to him in his life for him to be how he was.
“Now I have my horse, Balla, and she is absolutely wonderful.”