Convictions for cruelty to horses rise 60 per cent: RSPCA says recession a factor in mistreatment cases

CRUELTY to horses increased by 60 per cent last year while the number of cases of cruelty to most other animals fell, according to RSPCA figures published today.

Overall, cruelty and neglect cases are up by just 2 per cent, to 3,067 cases in 1993 from 3,003 the previous year. There were just 81 convictions for cruelty to horses in 1992, but 128 last year. The figure represents RSPCA convictions only, and does not include the recent spate of unexplained knife attacks on horses.

Reasons for the steep rise in horse cruelty convictions, most of which are for neglect rather than deliberate cruelty, are thought to be high upkeep costs, the effects of the recession on farmers and ignorance.

Mick Flower, a chief superintendent in the RSPCA's prosecutions department, said: 'No matter how hard times are, the desire for a quick sale should never override the welfare needs of a horse. We suspect that some people, perhaps in financial difficulties, have been selling horses without checking that the buyer understands the animal's needs.'

Louise Turner, of the International League for the Protection of Horses, said: 'I would say the increase in neglect is definitely recession-linked. Every time someone cuts a corner and worms or puts new shoes on a horse less regularly than they should, there is an impact on its welfare.'

Angela Pennicard from the RSPCA, who takes in mistreated horses and sheep on her land in Henfield, West Sussex, said: 'When people from rural areas have problems, their animals can sometimes take last priority. While the owner may be worrying about his or her debts, the horses are out in a field and sometimes, sadly, it's a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'.'

Murphy, a three-year-old pony now in her care, was found in a field with a foal collar growing into his nose, face and jaw, deeply embedded in the animal's flesh. When, after heavily tranquillising the frantic animal, a vet got the collar off, maggots crawled from the wound. Murphy's owner was fined pounds 250 plus costs and banned from owning a pony for five years. 'The collar was adjustable, it was just plain neglect,' Ms Pennicard said.

The previous owner of an 11- year-old horse called Socks served three months in prison for neglect. A farmer and eminent breeder, the owner kept 30 horses, 100 angora goats and several pigs. When the RSPCA arrived on her premises after being tipped off, they found two stallions shut up in four feet of excrement and hardly any ventilation. They and 13 others had to be destroyed. The owner was ordered to pay pounds 12,000 compensation and costs and banned for life from keeping any amimal.

The RSPCA is urging people to think about the cost before taking on a horse. It totals about pounds 20 a week for feed, shoes and worming - but livery, vets' bills and flu and tetanus jabs are extra. And it says owners must have plenty of time as well as money.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Convictions for cruelty and neglect ----------------------------------------------------------------- Animal 1992 1993 Dog 1541 1279 Cat 269 233 Horses 81 128 Cattle 120 28 Sheep 170 118 Pigs 36 14 Goats 67 26 Fowl 15 26 Exotic birds 5 7 Donkeys 3 29 Snakes 3 2 Guinea pigs 17 28 Budgies 3 5 -----------------------------------------------------------------