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Tough times send hill ponies to the abattoir. Ponies are being sold to abattoirs as squeezed margins mean horse trainers can no longer afford to break them in and school them.
Shivering in the corner of a freezing market pen after being herded down from the Welsh hills and separated from his mother, the little black foal made a sorry sight.
Once, he would have fetched thousands of pounds and been given a home at a riding school, or become a much-loved addition to a family. Now he and other “semi-ferals” are being knocked down for as little as two guineas.
Ponies from Dartmoor and Exmoor, so familiar to West Country tourists, are also being sold to abattoirs as squeezed margins mean horse trainers can no longer afford to break them in and school them.
Times are so bad that those that make it to auctions, such as the one in Brecon, Powys, are the lucky ones. Others are dumped on hillsides, abandoned in sheds or even tied to lampposts, dying for lack of food and water. Horse shelters are full to bursting.
A recent EU directive made a bad situation worse. It says all horses over six months of age must have an identifying microchip and be given a £25 passport.
The legislation is intended to protect people from eating meat tainted with veterinary drugs that could be harmful, but the extra cost makes it even less likely that horse trainers will take them on.
More than half the foals in recent sales in Wales have gone straight to slaughter, according to the RSPCA. This was born out at McCartney’s horse auction in Brecon last month, where the forlorn black colt was sold, and 38 of the other 66 lots ended up transported “on the hook” for human consumption overseas.
Animal welfare bodies report that fake passports are flooding the market as dealers seek to get rid of surplus stock. Andrew Davis, of the Horse Passport Agency, said: “For legislation to be effective, it has to be enforced.”
Families are also dumping their ponies at auction as the recession bites. Charles Hollis, an auctioneer in Derby, said: “In my 51 years as an auctioneer, it’s never been this bad.”
At one of his sales at the end of last month, family pet Smoky was up for grabs with a £350 reserve. A laminated poster tied to the bars of his pen showed him jumping a hedge at a gymkhana.
The seller, who asked not to be identified, said: “I bought him for my daughter but we just can’t afford to keep him any more. We’ve lost investments.”
Nicholas de Brauwere, of Britain’s biggest horse sanctuary, Redwings, in Hapton, near Norwich, said: “It’s hard to understand how anyone who loves horses could put them through the trial and uncertainty of an auction.
“Some people just don’t want to face up to the reality of disposing of a horse they can’t afford or don’t want to put down, but it’s better they be humanely euthanased.”
(This article by Jocasta Shakespeare was published in The Sunday Times on 26th December 2010.)
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