Archive for May, 2010

Within the space of a few weeks I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum of horse welfare from the extreme neglect of the unwanted souls at markets, to the minutest attention to detail paid to the horses behind the scenes at the Saumur 3* 3DE.

After recent outings to several Foires des Chevaux, it was wonderful to be going to a horse event simply for fun, with no intent other than to catch up with old friends and enjoy the competition ……. it’s been a while!

Watching the care received by event horses was just sheer pleasure. Riders not only pay great attention to their charges well-being in general, but also when on the cross country. At Saumur there were concerns about the ground, not only about the turf areas being firm, but also about the pull on the horses’ legs from the sand tracks. UK horses had left fairly chilly weather, so the French heat was an added factor to be considered.

The preparations for each horse before the riders get on takes about an hour. The horse is plaited, groomed, studded, booted, saddled then bridled, with last minute aesthetic touches of quartermarkers and hoof oil completing the picture.

As riders leave the stables, their faces show the focus for the task ahead, the horses march out purposely underneath them, supremely fit and gleaming, full of anticipation for the task ahead.

Grooms and helpers go to the main arena, with the kit for attending to the horses as soon as they finish. After warming up around the showground, the riders arrive at the start, last minute tack adjustments are made and the horses’ legs greased. The tension builds as the starter counts them down, then they’re off and connections wait anxiously, straining to listen for news of the rider on course.

After ten minutes of seeming eternity, suddenly the horse appears over the last fence and into the arena, and all hell is let loose…. tack off, the event vet takes the horse’s temperature, countless buckets of water to wash and scrape again and again, the horse is walked, given a drink, the XC boots come off and the cool boots go on and the horse is kept walking.
5-10 mins after the finish, when the horses temperature will be at it’s highest, yet another vet check to guage pulse rate, respiratory rate and temperature, then more washing, more scraping, more walking, studs out and finally the horse is taken up to the hoses in the calm of the stables to stand under cool running water.

Ice is then put under the boots or bandages to cool the limbs, the horse is throughly checked for any nicks or marks, and then left in the stable to rest with some food.
Any potential problems are treated or avoided with cooling products such as leg ice, various magnetic and pulse therapies and the employment of back and massage specialists. The horses are continually monitored until the stables are shut for the night.

Before the Trot-up

The vet check in the morning is a trot-up on a firm surface to ensure the horses are fit and sound enough to do the show jumping phase on the third day. Only one horse was spun, the riders’ worries having proved unfounded with most horses showing no ill-effects from the previous day.

The CCI3* was won by Germany’s Frank Ostholt on Mr Medicott, and the CIC2* won by France’s Nicolas Touzaint on Neptune de Sartene.

You can see the full results on the SAUMUR site.


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A poor looking horse awaiting his fate whilst a truck full of horses in the background wait to move off

Over the last few months we have been investigating some of the larger horse markets in France. We have invested heavily in surveillance equipment to record the evidence we need to effect the necessary changes. If we do not film or photograph unseen, then we run the risk of losing information. We were noticed photographing the huge sore on the female donkey’s hindquarters (see below), and when we returned to look at her, she had disappeared.

As ERF, our presence at the markets is to assess and report upon:

  • The well-being of the equines offered for sale
  • The conditions for the equines whilst at the markets
  • The handling of equines at the markets
  • The transportation to and from the markets
  • The compliance with EU welfare regulations, in particular Council Regulation (EC) 1/2005

Armed with this information, we then take the appropriate steps to report offences witnessed to the relevent EU bodies.

Our findings to date have been shocking. With a little more common sense applied to the needs of equines, many of the issues we encounter could be avoided. Some would be simple to implement – less overcrowding in the pens could prevent many of the injuries we witness.
There is a clear disregard for many of the EU transport laws – highly unsuitable vehicles used for transportation (two ponies even came out of the boot of a car!), inhumane loading practices, mixing horses and donkeys, entires and mares with all ages and all sizes being crammed so tightly into vans that the doors needed a lot of force just to shut against them.
Several injuries we saw were obviously from the horses being crushed against the ramp, or each other. Eye and lower limb lacerations were commonplace. There was no partitioning in many of the smaller dealers’ vans.
It seems likely that the permitted journey times for the young heavy horses travelling to Italy are being exceeded. The market is at least 8 hours (maximum journey time for unhandled horses) from the Italian border, and many of the trucks originated from regions in the NE of Italy.

Exhausted foals at the markets have only concrete to lie on all day

This coloured mare desperately attempts to escape from the stallion she is sharing a pen with. As she tries to launch over the pen she is halted by the rope she is tied to the railing with

Bad handling and unsuitable transport are to blame for many of the injuries we witnessed

For many this is the beginning of the journey to Italy for slaughter……

We will continue to monitor, report and campaign for equines to be treated humanely within the current EU animal welfare laws. We cannot continue to do this without your help. We need you as our eyes on the ground to report cases to us, and as our financial support. Every little helps, so please consider making a donation to enable to carry on with our welfare work in France.

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Image taken from Bucks Free Press

The appeal against the sentencing of James Gray and his family was rejected on Wednesday the 12th of May at Aylesbury Crown Court. All sentencing was upheld, with Gray receiving a a lifetime ban from keeping horses, a 26 week prison sentence (sadly the maximum allowed for such an offence) and instructed to pay £400,000 costs. The other four family members had minimum disqualification periods from keeping equines increased from five years to seven.

The sentencing Judge, Judge Tyrer said: What the court has been listening to is a horrendous case of animal cruelty. It is the worst case ever experienced by the RSPCA. In our judgment, this was animal cruelty on a scale that beggars belief.

The trial transcripts of the extent of the cruelty are in this DOCUMENT, and make grim reading.

There is however a twist in the tale, as James Gray has elected not to face his punishment, and has disappeared, with the police now forced to issue a warrant for his arrest as the defending lawyer admitted to having no idea where his client was.
If you see him phone Thames Valley Police urgently on 08458 505 505 or call Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.

We will continue to fight for the animals left to suffer at the hands of people like James Gray. The EU welfare laws are not strong enough to protect equines at the bottom end of the market.
Please support us in our work to monitor and change the situation at markets where dealers like James Gray ply their trade in misery and degradation.

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A fascinating chiropractic study has been undertaken in two French riding schools. A worrying 74% of horses were found to have severe back problems, with only 26% with mild problems, or unaffected. About 60% of horses had problems in more than one area.

Nineteen horses were examined and assessed at work and rest, and the resulting findings then compared to the way the individual horses had been ridden, and how the riders had been taught.

The problems found in the resting horses correlated directly with both the horses’ demeanour in work, and the manner in which the horses were ridden. Significant differences in teaching styles between the schools showed a markedly different impact on the rider and horse posture.

A very brief summary of the data suggests that one of the schools focussed on control of the horses more than riders’ posture and technique. This in turn produced riders with higher heel positions and shorter reins/higher hand postitions, causing the horses’ way of going to be hollow backed with a high head carriage. All the horses in this school were found to have back problems.
The second school concentrated on rider posture, and lower heel position and longer reins allowed the horses to work with a low head carriage and round neck, which caused much less negative impact on the vertebrae, with a proportion of horses without back problems. The study also touched on the behavioural problems associated with back pain, such as head shaking and aggression.

It’s good to see such a study undertaken, lets hope that the message is received and acted upon.

The full study is HERE

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