Last year, 4,923 stray horses were seized by councils and corporations, with 4,231, or 85 per cent of them, put down in pounds within five days. The stark number of horses humanely killed by the State last year represents one in 25 of the national herd – of just over 100,000.
Ireland is famous around the world for the best race and show jumping horses on the planet, which prompted an abundance of syndicates and over-breeding during the last decade.
But the downturn in the economy has resulted in horrific neglect and abandonment of horses, which tragically have been seen as a disposable, luxury item. Only one in 20 of the horses put down last year were claimed by their owners, while just over eight per cent were rescued and given new homes by animal welfare agencies.
ISPCA Chief Inspector Conor Dowling said it is a very sad situation caused by over-breeding and owners abandoning their equestrian pets.
“The reality is there is too many horses and nowhere for them to go. For the number to come down to a healthy level there are not a lot of options. We could continue on with all those numbers breeding and the number rising or we need efforts to curtail it now.
“The outcome of that may be pretty unpalatable, but the alternative is just putting off the inevitable and making it worse if you allow it to continue.
“We have far too many horses in the country and this has been escalating for the last 10 years.”
The number of horses humanely killed by councils in Ireland last year was almost double the number euthanised in 2012, when 2,125 were put to sleep.
Conor said the majority of owners of the abandoned horses leave the healthy animals to be put to sleep because they don’t want to pay fines or provide decent living conditions for the animals.
“Animals who are being held illegally or being kept without proper paperwork and identification are not being reclaimed because the value of the animals isn’t worthwhile for people to pay the fine. It could be several hundred euro,” he said.
“Then they have to have them micro-chipped and have to be able to provide a registered equine premises where they can keep them.
Conor said healthy horses will continue to be put down until all the animals in the country are identifiable by microchips which will make their owners accountable for their welfare.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine warned that a person who abandons an animal is liable on conviction to a fine of up to €250,000 or a prison term of up to five years or both and urged the public to report information on abandoned animals to the Gardai or their animal welfare helpline 076 1064408.