Video: World Horse Welfare Rescues Semi-Feral Horse Herd from Scotland

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by Fran Jurga | 9 June 2009 | The Jurga Report

Is 2009 the year of the Neglected Horse-Herd Bust? Here in the United States, there have been some high profile cases, and the burden of helping care for confiscated horses falls on the shoulders of the already cash-strapped non-profits who have the expertise and facilities to help--but not always the funds or the acreage.

For years, we've heard about cat hoarders and dog hoarders, and it's hard to say what horse hoarding is, by legal definition, but we may be seeing some cases brought to the harsh light of publicity that will help the judicial system gain a frame of reference.

Today I received an email from World Horse Welfare (formerly the International League for hte Protection of Horses). I often receive video of their efforts in South Africa or Eastern Europe or Mexico, but today's video is right in the backyard of their Belwades Farm in Scotland.

WHW Field Officer Doug Howie was sent to investigate a report of thin horses in a field in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and found several bands of semi-feral horses trying to live in a marshy field with little grass. Mares, stallions and young horses were pastured together. He found a stillborn foal in the field. These were all bad enough.

But Doug smelled something, and it smelled like death. It was coming from a barn on the property. "I went to investigate and found the rotting corpses of a large number of horses," Doug said. "The smell was overpowering and it was difficult to tell how many bodies were there. I kept the discovery to myself for the time being so as not to jeopardize the safe removal of those horses that were still alive. I wanted to do all I could to prevent them from suffering the same fate."

The horses had formed bands around several stallions and formed territories in the big field. It was hard to say how long they had been there. As it would turn out, many had never had contact with humans. It was a challenge, but this video shows how they tried to keep stallion and mare bands together as they had been in the field.

As soon as the living horses were safe, the health authorities were notified about the public health risk in the barn.

I hope you will watch the video and notice that World Horse Welfare puts forward this story in a quiet, factual way and does not exploit either their role or the horrors they found. It has not been sensationalized, since the scene speaks for itself. It doesn't even mention the owners.

It will take level heads and competent, trained horse welfare professionals to manage situations like these in the future. It will also take lots of money.

How can you help? Here are some suggestions:

1. Discourage horse breeding. Encourage adoption or buying of made, trained horses for recreational riders.
2. Encourage the castration of colts.
3. Lobby veterinary organizations and non-profit groups to support community low-cost castration, euthanasia, and carcass disposal grants or subsidies. Do you know how many stallions are in your town this year? The number might shock you.
4. Go to horse auctions or rescue farms and see the huge inventory of surplus horses with your own eyes. Take a friend. Don't just read about it. Do you really need to breed your mare?
5. Volunteer. Donate. Talk to others quietly, in a non-confrontational way, and know what the laws are in your community and state and how to report what you think might be horse neglect or cruelty. Realize that you might be mistaken, in some cases, and that the judgment must ultimately be left to law officials.
6. Encourage breed organizations and shows to offer more classes for older horses and to put less emphasis (and prize money) on classes for young horses.
7. No matter what you do, do it quietly and carefully and intentionally. Don't shout, don't lecture, don't shake fingers, and don't judge: use the WHW approach and let the facts speak louder than your own voice.

What would you add to this list? Click on the comments button and add your thoughts.

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