Horse welfare concerns this winter

Horse behind a fence in a winter landscape (Getty Images/iStockphoto/kzenon)

Horse behind a fence in a winter landscape (Getty Images/iStockphoto/kzenon) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Helping a horse or pony in need could save its life. The British Horse Society gives its advice for spotting genuine welfare concerns this winter

Horses in fields by the roadside are a frequent sight in Britain, and Hertfordshire is no exception. There are more than a million horses, ponies and donkeys in the UK, most of which are well cared for and loved, but there are some that sadly need help. You may occasionally feel concern about a horse or pony, especially in winter, but if you are not a horsey person it can be difficult to know whether a horse is in need, as the signs are not always obvious. Most of us are confident spotting welfare concerns in a cat or dog, but less so when it comes to horses. But with an increase in the number of horses being abandoned, if you know how to spot a welfare concern and then report it to the British Horse Society, you could help save an animal’s life.

Key signs to look for

If a horse is underweight, this can easily be identified by protruding bones, usually the hip or rib bones. Although weight loss can be common during winter, if a horse drastically loses weight, or if you can see its bones, then you should report it as soon as possible. At the other end of the scale, equine obesity is increasingly common, and poses serious threats to animals’ health.

Horses should always have access to food and water. After a long winter, there is usually little grass available, so their diet needs to be topped up with hay. If there are strands of hay left on the floor, then this is often an indication that the horse has been fed. In winter, there is a risk that a horse’s drinking water can become frozen. If you see a horse that does not appear to have access to food or water, keep an eye on it for a few days. It may be that the horse is fed early in the mornings or evenings during darkness.

If people see a horse without a rug on a cold day, they could assume it is not being looked after correctly, and that the animal is cold. However not all horses need to be rugged – there are many native breeds that have a thick coat and are well suited to cope with cold weather. Others need a bit of extra help to keep comfortable and warm, such as older horses or those that are clipped.

These are only some of the signs to look out for when you encounter a horse. If you do spot a horse you think is in need of help, you should report it to the British Horse Society as soon as possible. The organisation has a network of volunteer welfare officers throughout the country, including Hertfordshire, who will respond to concerns and work tirelessly to improve the lives of horses.

To report a horse in need or for further details on what is a genuine welfare concern, visit, email or call 02476 840517.

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