Industry to respond to report on horse welfare

A WORKING group has been set up to devise an apt industry response to a recently published report on horse welfare by University College Dublin.

It was announced at the Fáilte Ireland Dublin Horse Show yesterday that the group, made up of Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA) will have its first meeting on August 20 and produce its findings by October 31.

The UCD report, published in June, highlighted the need for improved horse welfare in Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has warned the equine industry it has “grave concerns” for the welfare of many horses this winter.

During the Celtic Tiger an excess number of horses were bred, but the recession, combined with poor prices, has left many unwanted, abandoned and neglected animals.

HSI chairman, Joe Walsh, said it was important the industry considered the UCD findings and decided how to respond.

“Horse welfare is an issue all of us in the equestrian sector are concerned about and we need to see what measures we can take to reduce the problem. It is particularly important the thoroughbred and sport horse sector take a united approach,” he said.

However, Mr Walsh, the former agriculture minister, called for balance in the welfare debate.

“While there is no doubt there are problems and that some horses are being abandoned and mistreated, the vast majority of horses are well cared for by their owners,” he said.

Mr Walsh said a huge amount of good work was being done by charities but the industry needed to look at measures to reduce the problem.

Traceability is one area he expected the group to focus on. It was important owners could be held accountable if they abandoned or mistreated horses.

“We need a system to track ownership,” he said.

ITBA manager Shane O’Dwyer said stakeholder participation will go a long way to addressing some of the current issues. A more coordinated approach would be better than the current situation, which was fragmented, he said.

The ISPCA disclosed that the number of calls made to its national helpline about horses and ponies increased by 100% in the past year.

It warned that the country’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest horse producers is at serious risk if action is not taken now.

ISPCA chairwoman Barbara Bent said market forces are falling. Fees are not being paid to trainers, breeding has not slowed in the bottom end of the market, and the number of horses has increased.

“All of these factors have added to our growing concern for winter 2010. We, as a horse-loving nation, need more than words to deal with what we expect to be the worst equine welfare situation we have ever faced this coming winter,” she said.

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