Are people really starving for their horses?

With some owners admitting to going without food so they can feed their horse, not being able to afford vet bills, or retiring their horse altogether to avoid the cost of shows, the recent National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) survey on equestrians and the cost of living was a rather depressing read.

More than 6,0000 horse owners from Ireland and Britain completed the survey and the results published detailed that 81% of those who took part were concerned about the continuing pressure of rising costs.

In fact, 39% admitted that the cost-of-living crisis was having a significant impact on their ability to keep their horses and they had to make ‘additional sacrifices’ to provide basic care.

Emergency funds

Education officer Rebecca Boulert at World Horse Welfare said: “Owners’ main concerns for the coming year are how they are going to afford even essential items like vet costs, emergency care, feed and forage. For us welfare organisations, it makes for very concerning reading, and of course, as charities we are also facing increased costs and reducing donations. It’s a worrying picture.”

Twenty percent of horse owners had taken on another job or increased hours to help pay for their horses’ care, while 2% of respondents said they were considering giving up their horse to a charity. A further 5% were considering euthanising their horse because of the crisis.

This NEWC survey doesn’t claim to represent the wider equine industry and sport but you don’t have to look far to see studs closing, trainers quitting and producers downsizing to see the true reflection of the pressures of managing horses in today’s economic climate.

Fact checking

Now, I have (what I feel is) a healthy scepticism when it comes to these types of surveys, they seem to happen a lot in the leisure horse realm and are utilised by everything from online vets to welfare organisations, to present the ‘facts’ of the current equestrian landscape.

Do people really fill these surveys in truthfully? Are they considering their feedback and ticking boxes as things really are? Who is to say, but before I dismissed the statistics presented, I had to take a good hard look at my own truth.

Have I missed out on things to prioritise my 11 horses? Yep. Have I paid a vet bill before doing a household shop? Yep. Are there a million Instagram reels and Facebook GIFS about horses and skint owners? Yep. Have we normalised prioritising the horse before the human across social media? Perhaps.

Indeed, perhaps this survey is a true reflection of horse owners’ lives, and if it is, how worried should we be at the possibility of lowering welfare for horses when the spotlight has never been stronger on welfare, and on horse owners who may be struggling alone?