Why ARE so many fam­i­lies dump­ing horses?

From screen star who runs an equine sanc­tu­ary, a heart­break­ing ques­tion...

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Jenny Sea­grove

MY MIS­CHIEVOUS teenagers, Tin­ker, Tai­lor and Sol­dier, are three young horses with feisty tem­per­a­ments who are still ac­quir­ing good manners.

With love and plenty of re­wards, they are learn­ing how to be­have. One day soon, when they’ve done some grow­ing up, they’ll be in­tro­duced to visi­tors, many of them chil­dren with ad­di­tional needs, who love to groom and stroke them. Noth­ing calms the mind and heals the heart bet­ter than a placid hour spent with a horse.

But when our colts first came to our horse sanc­tu­ary in the Sur­rey hills, they were starv­ing — so un­der­nour­ished we couldn’t find enough flesh on their flanks to give them a vi­ta­min B in­jec­tion. Their owner sim­ply dumped them in a field near a busy road.

Their first week with us was spent ly­ing on straw in a warm sta­ble, too weak to walk.

I wish I could say it was rare at Mane Chance Sanc­tu­ary to take an­i­mals that have been so hor­ri­bly mis­treated, but sadly it is all too com­mon.

There’s Daisy, found as a stray in the streets; Thelma and louise, left loose on a back road; Teddy, a young stal­lion dumped on pri­vate prop­erty, and Ziggy, an­other young stal­lion, aban­doned with a filly to wan­der the lanes.

This week the Mail car­ried the shock­ing picture of a pony dumped in the small gar­den of a home in Stoke-on-Trent.

The owner had placed an on­line ad­vert say­ing the pony would be put down if no­body could take it, and a 13-year-old girl replied with her grand­mother’s ad­dress. A man then arrived, dumped the pony and dis­ap­peared. In the past few years, horses have been aban­doned in their thou­sands — and it’s get­ting worse.

The RSPCA said last month the num­ber of horses it had res­cued has hit a four-year high, with 980 horses be­ing taken into care last year and an av­er­age of 80 phone calls a day com­ing in about horses. Many are in ter­ri­ble health.

SOMe come from breed­ers with too many foals who don’t care what hap­pens to them, so long as it costs their busi­ness noth­ing. Since the horse meat food scan­dal in 2013, when sick­ened shop­pers learned that horse­flesh was be­ing used in many su­per­mar­ket ‘beef’ prod­ucts, the se­cre­tive mar­ket for hu­man con­sump­tion has been shut off to these un­scrupu­lous breed­ers.

But with eco­nomic trou­bles, and the cost of land rising, many pri­vate own­ers are just un­able to keep their horses.

Some come to us in des­per­a­tion. They have lost their jobs, fallen ill or been through a di­vorce, and sim­ply can’t af­ford to sta­ble their beloved an­i­mal. Oth­ers are get­ting old and can no longer cope. In some cases, one horse has died and left a sec­ond mis­er­able and lonely — a busy sanc­tu­ary is a hap­pier place to spend twi­light years than an empty field.

I have deep sym­pa­thy with these own­ers. If they come to us, they are do­ing the best they can for their horses.

But many oth­ers sim­ply don’t care. They con­demn their an­i­mals to live and die in con­di­tions that beg­gar be­lief. Take Mil­lie and Horus — a young mare, and a hand­some stal­lion in his early 20s.

They were left in a field of about 100 horses with no food or wa­ter. When res­cuers found them, the field was scat­tered with dead and dy­ing an­i­mals — Mil­lie and Horus were among the sur­vivors.

Two of our gen­tlest crea­tures are mother and daugh­ter, Gwen and Phyl­lis. Gwen had been sav­agely beaten and teth­ered to a goal­post to give birth, and was cut loose, ter­ri­fied and trau­ma­tised.

It never fails to baf­fle me that peo­ple treat horses so bru­tally.

One of our herd lead­ers was called ernie, a gen­tle gi­ant 18 hands high, a favourite with mares and visi­tors. ev­ery­one loved ernie. But it wasn’t al­ways the case. When he came to us, he would bite the hands and faces of any­one who got too close. He’d been beaten so badly he de­fended him­self against all hu­mans. Grad­u­ally, we taught him he didn’t have to be afraid.

This is the most re­ward­ing work in the world. Mind you, I never set out to run a sanc­tu­ary. I’m an ac­tress and I love my work.

But, in 2011, some­one I knew phoned me with a des­per­ate prob­lem: she was run­ning a pri­vate an­i­mal res­cue cen­tre and had some­how ac­quired 40 horses and many other an­i­mals and birds.

It was hardly sur­pris­ing that she’d run out of money and I just couldn’t turn my back. I re­alised there was some­thing I could do: I could start a char­ity that would take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the an­i­mals and their wel­fare. lit­tle did I know what a huge task that would be.

So with friends and the pub­lic be­ing amaz­ingly sup­port­ive, Mane Chance was born.

It wasn’t all plain sail­ing. At 7am on the first Sun­day af­ter our horses moved into their new home, I had an an­guished call from a neigh­bour. Quad bik­ers had charged through our field, knocked down the elec­tric fences and spooked the horses... who were gal­lop­ing round the 18th green of the lo­cal golf club, caus­ing may­hem.

Af­ter six months, the ‘non-equine’ res­i­dents and some horses were re­homed, as we worked out a man­age­able num­ber we could care for. Since 2011, that num­ber has risen to 33 — any more and our staff, and tire­less vol­un­teers, risk be­ing stretched too thin. even within those lim­its, an­nual run­ning costs are around £300,000. We’re sup­ported by self­less donors, spon­sors, grant givers and busi­nesses, but be­cause of the work we do with young peo­ple we need staff ex­pe­ri­enced at work­ing with peo­ple as well as horses. And we need good fa­cil­i­ties. It all costs money.

Our work with young peo­ple be­gan with two Shet­land ponies called Grimbo and Mr Smith, who loved com­pany.

We took them to a lo­cal hos­pice, and I was amazed to see the pow­er­ful ef­fect on chil­dren who sat or stood with them, stroking them, giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing un­con­di­tional love. It was so mov­ing to watch . . . and it gave me an idea.

Most of our horses will never be rid­den. Some are too old, oth­ers have arthri­tis. But they can help peo­ple, just by be­ing horses. Not all our res­cue an­i­mals are suit­able for this work, but many love it.

They seem to un­der­stand, when a child with a ter­mi­nal ill­ness, per­haps, or an older per­son with de­men­tia, is qui­etly shar­ing their com­pany, that they are do­ing im­por­tant work.

We DON’T make any horse work if it doesn’t clearly want to. Most are only too happy to be fussed over, though. In fact, they are so con­tent we’ve de­cided many will never be re­homed — they’ve en­dured des­per­ate hard­ship, and now they’ve found a place they love. We owe them the chance to stay.

But with Mane Chance at full ca­pac­ity, and more calls each week, we need to do more. Tighter leg­is­la­tion is part of it: breed­ers must not con­tinue to dump young stal­lions just be­cause they have lit­tle use for them (un­like mares, which can bear foals).

New laws on mi­crochip­ping, which will lead to a na­tional own­er­ship reg­is­ter called the Cen­tral equine Data­base, should help. So would bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for the pub­lic: peo­ple need to un­der­stand how costly it is to keep a horse.

Hu­mane euthana­sia, when a sick an­i­mal needs to be put down, costs about £500, for ex­am­ple. It’s never an ac­cept­able op­tion to dump the poor crea­ture in a field in­stead.

Mane Chance is try­ing to show that horses don’t need to be thrown away. We dream of lit­tle res­cued herds all over the coun­try, help­ing peo­ple. We save them, but in many ways they save us, too.

THE fee for this ar­ti­cle has been do­nated to Mane Chance Sanc­tu­ary (manechance sanc­tu­ary.org).

Horse res­cuer: Jenny with Tai­lor (left) and Tin­ker

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