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Risks to The Welfare of Horses During Transport

01 April 2016, at 12:00am

In her article, Allison advises OVs on the risks to equines during transport and offers advice on how they can improve welfare.

Every year, thousands of horses, ponies and donkeys are moved in and out of the UK. Some are transported in compliance or partial compliance with the EU regulations but, unfortunately,  this is no guarantee that their welfare is maintained throughout the journey and it is likely that many equines are being transported in conditions that are, to say the least, a cause for concern.  

As part of our campaign to end the long distance transport of equines for slaughter across Europe in favour of a carcass-only trade, we have been making observations at control posts and collection centres along the main Eastern European slaughter routes for many years.

Welfare problems amongst equines transported long distances across Europe for slaughter have also been well documented in literature and by other NGO’s.

Since 2006, we have been investigating the trading of equines in the UK and mainland Europe in order to better understand not only the trade itself but the social and economic factors surrounding it.

Our investigations have highlighted issues including:

  • A raft of welfare issues from disease risk, unsuitable transport, long hours spent on vehicles and behaviours observed at control posts
  • An increasing number of fraudulent or fake horse passports and export applications being prepared with the intention of hiding the true identity of the equine and making it eligible for entry into the human food chain. 

Many of these issues are not yet recognised by the authorities, leaving traders free to continue unhindered and a lack of worthwhile checks means that the EU Guidelines currently in place are often not enforced.

For equines being transported, other than the owner or transporter, the OV may be the only person to see them.   OVs have a key role to play in educating those responsible for transporting equines and in reporting concerns appropriately.

How you can help:

  • Look out for abnormal behaviours and be aware of subtle signs that may indicate a welfare problem, such as a lack of droppings or facial tension. Quiet horses on a clean lorry with full haynets are not necessarily a good sign. 
  • Be aware of passport fraud. The large number of UK (and ROI) passport issuing organisations, combined with the lack of security features in passports across the EU, means they can be easily faked or altered.   Check for spelling mistakes on vet stamps or pages not being flush.
  • Be aware of microchip fraud. We have seen evidence of microchips being overlaid, reprogrammed and/ or duplicated. We recommend that you always thoroughly scan both sides of the horse’s neck from ears to withers, even if a chip has been found. 
  • Check the details carefully when certifying equine fitness for transport. Sequential microchip and passport numbers should be highlighted to the APHA.  Consider the capacity of the vehicle and its suitability for the length of journey. The overloading and hitching of trailers to lorries for journeys of more than eight hours are unfortunately common practice. The use of curtain-sided vehicles to hide the nature of the load is also on the increase in the UK. 
  • Build your own understanding of the horse trade.  Knowing why horses are bought and sold or imported and exported, often with an apparent lack of economic viability, will help you to protect their welfare.  Horses can be bought and sold many times and may spend long hours on vehicles, at markets or in holding yards during this process. There is often no one person with  responsibility for their welfare. 
  • Please help us to help horses. You can pass on information anonymously via the World Horse Welfare website www.worldhorsewelfare.org/tell-us.  Non-compliant and partially-compliant transports represent one of the most significant welfare and disease threats to the UK equine population. A greater knowledge of these movements could allow for more accurate disease risk assessments and the better use of ever-dwindling regulatory resources. 
  • Ask us for help. We welcome the opportunity to share our information and experience of the horse trade with OVs and to facilitate discussions so that we can work together to improve the welfare of horses. We also provide resources, including the European Commission-endorsed ‘Practical Guidelines on the Watering of Equine Animals Transported by Road’ and ‘Practical Guidelines to Assess the Fitness for Transport of Equidae’. We run practical training days covering issues such as horse identification, behavioural indicators and the horse trade. Please contact us directly to discuss  any concerns you may have or for advice on to whom you should report your concerns. 

Full details about the work of World Horse Welfare are available at www.worldhorsewelfare.org