RSPCA braced for rise in horse neglect over winter
The RSPCA is bracing itself for a big influx in the number of abandoned and neglected horses.
Nationally, numbers are currently lower than the same time last year, one of the worst on record.
But Equine Rehoming Officer Gareth Johnson said the charity had been "very lucky" with the weather and was preparing for the worst from January.
"We've got space, but very, very limited space to be perfectly honest," he said.
"We are at this moment above our quota of where we should be and the winter hasn't really started yet.
"But we are making in-roads as to where we can take in more, but it's very costly and we are struggling."
Reports of neglected horses tend to peak in the winter when animals that have managed to survive for the rest of the year start to struggle for grazing.
Where there is no shelter, cold weather and rain mean the condition of animals can also deteriorate quickly.
Gonsal Farm, in Shropshire, is one of three RSPCA horse rescue centres in England, with others at Felledge near Durham and Lockwood in Surrey.
Between them they can accommodate about 150 horses and ponies.
A network of up to 20 private boarding stables across the country provides extra space, but at a cost to the charity.
Mr Johnson said Gonsal Farm, with a working capacity of 50, was currently caring for about 40 horses, with another 20 known to be coming in January.
In November alone, 71 horses were abandoned across the country, taking the year's total to over 1,200.
Last year, more than 2,300 horses were reported to the charity, but Mr Johnson said that included one case in South Wales involving about 650 animals - thought to be one of the biggest rescues of its kind in the world.
Mr Johnson said horses were often difficult to rehome because of their size and specialist needs, although campaigns had proved "very successful".
"At Gonsal Farm alone we've rehomed something like 110 horses this year. On top of that we've got 33 horses and ponies out being fostered."
'Skin and bones'
Hotspots for abandoned horses this year include Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Kent and Durham.
Many of them will go to Gonsal Farm, a 186-acre purpose-built site near Dorrington.
One resident, 16-year-old Yasmine, a Welsh-cross pony, was found in Anglesea in February.
"It was one of the worst cases I have ever seen as far as neglect goes," Mr Johnson said.
"She was complete skin and bones. We have a body score of between one and five and she didn't even register.
"There were horses dead in stables, dead in fields, a very harrowing situation.
"Yasmine was one of the lucky ones, but what this mare saw was unbelievable. She was literally walking on dead bodies and she's not going to forget that."
Abandoned horse hotspots in England 2014
- Gloucestershire: 102 horses
- Kent: 98 horses
- Greater Manchester: 96 horses
- Durham: 64 horses
- Lancashire 58 horses
Source: RSPCA (figures up to end of November)
Another of the horses at Gonsal Farm waiting for a new home is Three-year-old Polo, rescued from a garden shed in a small yard at a home in Dudley.
"We found this poor animal emaciated," Mr Johnson said.
"It had no proper food, it had potato peelings and maybe a few apples, but no hay, no bedding. It was living with household rubbish in the shed and in a real state.
"Parts of the Black Country have a real problem. There are lots of really good owners in the area, but a few have horses on tethers, on wasteland, on council land, and it's a bit of bravado.
"They have a horse because it's the in-thing to do."