Vets have been forced to put a severely neglected pony to sleep amid an equine crisis that has left the RSPCA at “breaking point”.
The animal charity said the infested pony it rescued from a field in Marshland St James for intensive care has had to be put down, and an investigation aiming to trace and prosecute the owner has been launched.
It comes as the RSPCA and other horse welfare charities struggle to cope with the rising numbers of abandoned, neglected and abused horses across the country.
An RSPCA spokesman said: “We are being stretched to breaking point with about 125 places at our equine centres but more than 500 horses in our care.”
It is thought the economic downturn, over breeding and the spiralling costs of keeping horses has created a perfect storm for the animals to be abandoned.
The charity is now calling for better enforcement of legislation surrounding horse identification, such as microchipping, so it can trace the owners in cases of neglect and abuse.
The RSPCA was made aware of the stricken pony on Smeeth Bank, off Walton Road in Marshland St James, and eight other emaciated horses and ponies on the same site, following calls from members of the public more than two months ago.
It said it had been monitoring the animals, in conjunction with World Horse Welfare, but an inspector called for the police and vets to attend the field on September 16 when the pony suddenly deteriorated.
The spokesman said: “The pony was taken to a nearby vets for intensive care and treatment and it was found he was suffering from severe worm burden and salmonella and was in a state of severe suffering.
“Sadly the following morning the pony collapsed and was fitting and the vets felt that unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, the pony could not be saved and the only option was to put him to sleep.
“At present our investigations into this matter are ongoing.”
One of the residents which reported the animals to the RSPCA is now calling for action to prevent other animals suffering the same fate.
Michelle Slinn said: “Myself and my husband and lots of other people in the area are concerned for the other horses left there.
“Not one of them has access to clean water and they have no shelter from the wind and rain which are basic legal requirements.
“They are having to drink black water from a dyke which could be contaminated.
“No animal deserves to be treated in this way, and it’s about time that action is taken to stop owners from turning a blind eye.”
Mrs Slinn also said the lack of action when the horses were first reported has made her question whether to maintain her monthly direct debit donations to the RSPCA.
“What does monitoring the horses mean? Were they keeping an eye on them a couple of times a week, or just every now and then? If this pony had been rescued sooner he may still be alive today.”
The RSPCA spokesman said equine neglect was happening across the country.
“Sadly this situation is not uncommon,” she said. “The country is currently in the grip of a horse crisis with the RSPCA and other horse welfare charities struggling to cope with the numbers of abandoned, neglected and abused horses.
“We believe the main two reasons are the recession and overbreeding.
“Horses can be expensive to look after properly, it can cost about £100 a week, so if owners are struggling they often cut back on veterinary costs, routine care, shelter and feed.
“Horses continue to be bred as some dealers and some horse owners believe that they can still make a profit from breeding horses. In reality, prices for horses have dropped significantly and a pony can be bought for £5 at some markets. Meanwhile horse owners are having difficulty rehoming their unwanted horses and, increasingly, cannot even give them away.”
To find out more about how you can help rescued horses, including rehoming and fostering opportunities, visit: www.rspca.org.uk/homesforhorses
To report cruelty, contact the RSPCA cruelty line on 0300 1234999 or World Horse Welfare on 08000 480180.