Good horse and pony owners behave responsibly, but a minority put the welfare of their animals at risk by dumping them on other people’s land.
Fly-grazed horses are often left to fend for themselves without sufficient shelter, water and forage, which increases their risk of malnutrition and preventable illness. In certain circumstances, fly-grazing may also affect public safety.
Although the Control of Horses Act 2015 has helped, problems clearly remain, with patchy enforcement of current legislation.
The new Central Equine Database (CED) was launched in March this year. It holds 1.2 million equine records and can be used by local authorities to help identify the owners of straying, abandoned or neglected horses which have previously been microchipped.
The government has been pressed on whether registration to the CED will be a statutory requirement and has said that all horses resident in the UK are required to hold an equine passport, which requires registration with a UK Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO).
All PIOs will be required to share relevant data with the CED and the government asserts that this gives government, local authorities and the Food Standards Agency access to records on all horses and other equines resident in the UK.
The government has also committed to bring forward legislation, as soon as practicable, to implement current EU law on equine identification, including the CED.
Horse welfare should go far wider than issues of neglect and licencing legislation. There is also a need for improved education in good horse management and behaviour prior to ownership.
The code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids has been updated recently to contain more detail about what owners and keepers need to do to ensure the welfare of their animals. I hope this will lead to improvements in horse welfare.