When a horse is abused, neglected or abandoned by a person, that person is committing an offence under Irish law – the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. He or she may also be committing various offences under the Control of Horses Act 1996.
The Control of Horses Act is a piece of legislation that empowers local authorities (county councils) to control horses and their keepers. It allows them to issue fines, prosecute people who are not compliant with the law, and seize horses that are not compliant and remove them to a place of safety. The well-intentioned purpose of this law was to empower county councils who, through its enforcement, were equipped to create a culture where horses are properly identified with microchip and passport and valued and cared for in an appropriate environment. If someone does not comply with this, the Act authorises the local authority and the Gardai to bring sanction to the offender in the form of fines, legal prosecutions and seizure of the horse.
Since the Control of Horses Act was enacted in 1996, the default of local authorities is to remove abandoned and straying horses to a Horse Pound. The pound is a private contractor that makes a profit from money that comes from the taxpayer. In 2018, 1,460 horses were seized under the Control of Horses Act 1996. 133 were returned to their owners and 271 were released to charities like My Lovely Horse Rescue and Hungry Horse Outside. Most of these horses, ponies and donkeys are shipped to homes in Germany due to the difficulty finding appropriate homes in Ireland.
The remainder, 1,056 horses, were shot in the pound.
This figure included many healthy equines: mares, geldings, stallions, ponies, colts, fillies, foals and mares-in-foal. Only a handful had microchips. There is no evidence of any sanction being brought to the people whose names were on the chips. Under Irish law, it is the responsibility of the seller and buyer of the horse to ensure that the microchip is updated – both seller and buyer are committing an offence if the chip is not updated. This law is never enforced. The owners whose horses end up in the pound generally allege that the horse is no longer theirs, and somehow this exonerates them from any repercussion.
This figure is separate to the 7,700 horses that are slaughtered each year in Irish or UK abattoirs for meat.
So where are all these horses coming from? Due to a lack of legislation to control stallions in Ireland, anyone can breed any amount of horses, sell them, and make a profit. There are good breeders, but there is a large number of people in Ireland breeding horses with no thought for the genetic makeup of the horses they produce, no regard for the welfare standards in which they are bred and kept, and who are willing to supply offenders with more cheap horses if their horse ends up in the pound.
Control the breeding; enforce the laws. Then we are closer to a solution.