A HORSE sanctuary in Somerset is at capacity as it struggles to rehome its animals during the coronavirus outbreak.

World Horse Welfare, which has a centre near Somerton, as well as in Lancashire, Aberdeenshire and Norfolk, is bursting at the seams as current government restrictions prevent the charity's staff members from rehoming horses.

A build-up of horses involved in police investigations and court cases is also putting a strain on its services.

Across the four centres there are 406 horses - a record number for the charity. Normally they care for around 330 across their locations.

At the Somerset centre, Glenda Spooner Farm, alone there are 96 horses, with 33 of these part of active prosecution cases.

Tony Tyler, director of UK welfare at World Horse Welfare said: “While the welfare of these horses is assured, providing the care they need is stretching the resources and efforts of the staff and, as many of these animals are from large unhandled groups and so are unused to human contact, it makes handling them even more of a challenge.

"We had expected that with the arrival of spring, we would be able to rehome a good bunch of them who were ready to leave us but, with the government restrictions, we can’t undertake home checks or invite applicants to meet our horses. So, we will continue to care for all of them, while finding space where we can to take in emergency cases.”

All horses are receiving maintenance care by the teams, but rehabilitation activities such as physiotherapy, lunging, backing and riding have been temporarily suspended to enable the grooms to self-isolate if needed or adjust to staff members falling ill in the coming weeks. Avoiding any potentially higher-risk activities with horses – such as riding – was also a decision taken to reduce the chance of putting extra pressure on the emergency services and NHS at this challenging time.

The large number of horses currently at the charity is the result of a rising tide of large, complex welfare cases across the country and the laws around animals seized as part of welfare prosecutions.

Mr Tyler added: "“In the first three months of 2020, we took in 107 horses, of which 53 were involved in prosecution cases.

"World Horse Welfare works with other welfare organisations to rescue horses and, where large group rescues are made, animals are shared around between the different organisations wherever space is available.”

Usually, horses that come in are signed over to the charity, but ones involved in prosecution cases can only be given maintenance care, and often end up back with their owners if the legal case is not successful.

He added: “Now a combination of a large number of prosecution cases and a striking increase in sheer number of horses involved is leading to additional challenges, as well as reducing the numbers of horses who can be offered for rehoming, thus reducing spaces for further horses in need.

“Hoarding behaviour and irresponsible breeders and dealers have always been around, but the numbers of animals involved are definitely getting larger. When I first started at World Horse Welfare a large case would be 3-4 horses, now some of these cases are coming in with 30-40 animals at one time.”

Despite the challenges, the charity is encouraging anyone interested in rehoming a horse to register as soon as possible to get the ball rolling.

Visit rehoming.worldhorsewelfare.org for more information.

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