January 3, 2016


The RSPCA is under immense operational pressure in responding to the horse crisis. We now have around 1,000 horses in our care up from 550 only two years ago.  Indeed we are not alone and all the major horse welfare organisations are facing the same problems due to the increasing number of horses and ponies needing our help.  It is estimated there are over 5,000 horses in England that are at risk of needing rescue or new homes.

One of the main reasons for this is ‘fly-grazing’ of horses and ponies – this is where the animals are placed on land without the landowner’s permission, often in inappropriate places, such as verges, playing fields or farmland putting the animal at risk.  It is estimated that there are likely to be at least 2,500 horses and ponies fly-grazed in England at present, but there could be many more.

There are a number of key issues that have led to these problems:


  1. Over-population and low market value – irresponsible dealers are at the heart of the problem and are still buying, breeding and importing horses despite the market becoming saturated and prices having crashed.
  2. Limited spaces at animal centres – space and resources within rescue centres is under severe pressure as the number of horses coming in continues to rise.
  3. Upsurge in welfare concerns – all the major welfare organisations have seen an increase in complaints about horse welfare and the numbers of horses they are dealing with, likely due to current financial climate.

The RSPCA is extremely pleased that the Control of Horses Act 2015 came into force on 26th May 2015. The Act gives local authorities in England powers to deal with fly grazed horses.  Since the Act came into effect, we have seen a 25% reduction in horses being fly grazed as more local authorities use the Act.  The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare ran two training courses for local authorities in 2017 to encourage an even greater take up.

For further information on this issue please see the attached briefings.