With more people taking to the countryside during the third COVID-19 lockdown, the BHS has been made aware of instances where horses have been seriously injured, made extremely ill or in some cases having died due to the public feeding the horse or through actions such as leaving gates open.
The BHS launched their #BeHorseAware campaign in April 2020 to raise public awareness of the suffering that horses and owners can go through as a result of inappropriate feeding.
Preliminary results from the Bristol survey, completed by 1,017 people in 2020, revealed high numbers of owners had experienced their horses being fed without their permission, with over half finding this had been occurring more frequently since the first COVID-19 lockdown.
The survey also found that nearly a third of horses became unwell as a result, with half of these needing veterinary treatment. Almost a third of those that required treatment did not make a full recovery and shockingly 16 per cent died or were euthanised.
The BHS is offering the following simple advice to those enjoying the countryside:
Do not feed horses as any type of food can cause them to become extremely unwell or even kill them.
Leave gates and property as you find them.
Keep your dog on a lead as they may startle horses, which can cause injury.
If you see a horse in distress, alert the nearest farm/yard or check for a sign with owner’s detail on.
The BHS has produced free signs for horse owners to place around their fields warning the public not to feed their horses. These are available for download here.
Gemma Stanford, Director of Welfare at The British Horse Society, said:
“The BHS is urging members of the public to take notice of our #BeHorseAware campaign and not feed horses in fields as this can cause serious, potentially life-threatening illness. We believe many people act with no malicious intent and at this time of year members of the public think that they are helping a hungry horse. However, they are unaware of the timings at which owners feed their horses and the risks that certain foods or grass cuttings can pose. If members of the public feel that a horse is being mistreated or underfed, we would ask them to contact the BHS welfare helpline for advice.
“We also encourage horse owners to download free signs the BHS has produced warning the public not to feed their horse. The greater the awareness of the issue, the more likely people are to change their behaviour in the future.”
Dr Jo Hockenhull, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol Vet School, said:
“It is important to recognise that in many of the cases reported in our survey, horses and ponies are being fed household vegetables and items that you would think are safe like grass, apples and carrots. Even if you think it is harmless, the horses might have underlying health issues or allergies. Our research shows that the consequences of feeding horses anything without permission can be very serious or even fatal.”
Preliminary results from the University of Bristol survey:
Completed by 1,017 people in 2020
77.5% (n=788) found evidence/suspected that their horses were being fed without their permission
82.7% feeders were families (adults & children)
27.9% (n=220) horses became unwell or injured as a result of being fed without permission
Of these 50% (n=109) required veterinary treatment
27.7% (n=81) did not make a full recovery, including 16.4% (n=35) that died or were euthanised
The full report will be published in March 2021.