Ponies can be brought for as little as £1

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The Independent Online

Ponies, once the ultimate status symbol for every little girl, are now so cheap they can be bought for £1, less than a fifth of the price of a gerbil.

Ponies, once the ultimate status symbol for every little girl, are now so cheap they can be bought for £1, less than a fifth of the price of a gerbil.

The result is a huge increase in the number of ponies being kept on housing estates, bought as cheap and novel pets then abandoned, according to the RSPCA, which has seen the numbers of unwanted or injured animals double in two years.

"Ponies are being overbred from poor-quality stock and then sold for peanuts. Some animals fetch just £1," explained RSPCA spokeswoman Ros Varnes. "They are sold for slaughter at pony fairs or are bought by people who just want a pony but they end up abandoned. People on housing estates buy them as status symbols."

Many cheap ponies are being sold for dog-meat while others, it is claimed, are exported illegally to the continent for human consumption. The RSPCA is now setting up specialist teams to target the problem.

"We want to try to discourage overbreeding of animals. There isn't much of a market for them," said Ms Varnes. "There are a lot of poor-quality animals out there, for the sake of somebody making just a few pounds, but the knock-on effect is disastrous."

The new pony inspectors will, at first, concentrate on three areas of Wales, where the pony glut is particularly acute, targeting breeders in Swansea, Wrexham and an area around the town of Gelligaer in the Rhondda Valley. But the problem is not confined to Wales, with New Forest ponies going for similar sums and abandoned animals common in most major British cities, including London.

The RSPCA said that 27 abandoned, unwanted or injured ponies were rescued in 1998, and that number has already doubled in the first half of this year. But those figures represent only a fraction of the true numbers of ponies abandoned in the UK. The vast majority do not come to the attention of the RSPCA.

The pony surfeit and the accompanying drop in prices has also alarmed the British Horse Society, currently in talks with the Government to set up a nationwide registration scheme. It is unlikely, however, that such a scheme would be compulsory, due to the attendant bureaucracy and problems of enforcement.

"We are looking at a voluntary scheme but there is then the problem of finding the right solution for the horse-owner that doesn't want to register," said Kirstin Alford, welfare officer for the Society.

The Society is increasingly concerned by the numbers of well-meaning people who buy ponies at auctions for tiny sums to save them from the slaughterhouse. They are, says Nichola Gregory, spokeswoman for the Society, more often than not misguided.

"It is all very well buying one, but looking after it is another matter. Nine times out of 10, the pony would be better off going for meat. At least it's out of its misery. People who buy them don't know how to look after them and so they suffer. At least if they go off for meat it's a bullet to the brain and that's it, rather than years of discomfort.

"Even horse sanctuaries take on too many and then we have to rescue them from the rescuers and then they have to be put down anyway."