Jayne Duggan with Darwin and Darby. Credit: My Lovely Horse Rescue

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Three horses died in the city in recent weeks. A horse collapsed in Smithfield two weeks ago and later had to be put down.

Another horse that was loose in Cabra was hit by cars, and then a pony died after an accident while attached to a sulky, in Cloverhill.

There are serious concerns about animal welfare in the city, says Martina Kenny, co-founder of My Lovely Horse Rescue. But animal welfare charities, the council and the Gardaí have been making progress, she says.

Dublin City Council seized 43 horses last year compared with 332 in 2013 and a spokesperson says that is partly because fewer horses are being kept illegally.

“This is consistent with the citywide decline in nos. of horses being kept illegally due to improved enforcement of Control of Horses legislation and greater awareness of horse owner responsibility,” says the spokesperson.

However, Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney, who chairs the council’s animal welfare subcommittee, says there are still major issues with horse welfare. “There are huge problems in this city with neglected and abused animals.”

Kenny says a specialist unit to tackle animal cruelty should be established within An Garda Síochána, and harsher penalties brought in for those convicted.

Saving Them

Dublin City Council released data on the number of horses seized and euthanised in response to a question by independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly in April.

In 2013 the council seized 332 horses and had 320 of those euthanised. By 2018, that had dropped to 187 horses seized and 145 of those were put down.

Last year the council seized 43 horses and succeeded in re-homing all of them through charities, says a council spokesperson.

Because they’re seizing fewer horses, they haven’t needed to fall back on euthanasia as much, said the council spokesperson. “It has been possible, with the support of animal welfare organisations, to re-home seized horses.”

There is still more to do on animal welfare in the city though, says Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor. “I’m pleased we have the animal welfare unit and that we’re recruiting staff,” she says. “We’re heading in the right direction but it’s slow.”

My Lovely Horse Rescue in Kildare takes the horses seized by the council if the owner doesn’t claim them, says Kenny, its co-founder.

The charity has around 250 to 300 horses at any time as well as around 500 other animals, such as pigs and goats, she says.

The horses come from all over Ireland, often brought in by Gardaí from animal cruelty cases and sometimes they are in a really bad state, she says.

“We would get some of them in terrible condition. They are full of worms, they are very sick and very skinny,” says Kenny. “Sometimes we just can’t save them.”

Horses that are shod badly can get thrush in their feet. “We have one at the moment and the shoes look like they are homemade,” she says. Some of the nails in the horseshoe were pushed through the wrong part of the horse’s hoof, through his flesh instead of the hard part, she says.

“People say they love their animals but they don’t know how to look after them,” she says.

If the council seizes a horse then the owners have to pay a fine to get it back, says Kenny. Since younger horses aren’t worth much money they are more likely to be abandoned, and end up with a charity.

“We get young horses that are neglected and frightened,” she says. “We give them veterinary care, love and attention.”

Once the horses are well enough, the charity looks for foster placements for them, says Kenny. “We are desperate for land and for foster homes.”

When a horse reaches four years old and it is finished growing it can be trained, she says. After that, they can find a permanent home.

Teaching Horse Welfare

In addition to looking after horses that need it, and finding them new homes, My Lovely Horse Rescue also runs animal-welfare training sessions in schools and horse projects in Dublin, says Kenny.

Horse projects provide training about animal welfare to horse owners, says Kenny.

When she does training in schools she brings her four dogs with her, she says and she chats with the kids about how to look after animals.

She tells them about some of the situations that the charity has rescued animals from and how much work goes into caring for the animals.

Sometimes when they visit secondary schools some of the teenagers have horses.

“It’s even teaching them the amount of water that a horse drinks,” says Kenny. And that “you can’t feed your horse grass clippings, that can make your horse very sick”.

One child was feeding his horse crisps, she says.

A horse needs exercise, she says. “It’s not good to have a horse in your back garden tethered to the washing pole.”

Often the young horse owners don’t realise they shouldn’t tie their horse up with a rope, she says. “They don’t get it that nylon doesn’t snap.”

If a horse panics a leather strap will break but the rope won’t – so the horse could strangle itself, she says. “It can wrap itself around a tree and kill itself.”

Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says “There is a lot of horses in awful situations that are seriously neglected.”

The council is working with Gardaí and the Department of Agriculture to tackle the issue, she says.

Increased enforcement by Gardaí is helping, says Kenny, of my Lovely Horse Rescue.

Some Gardaí in Dublin are committed to pursuing prosecutions for animal cruelty and are sharing information with colleagues on how to achieve convictions, she says.

“It works,” says Kenny. “More prosecutions and more fines mean less cruelty.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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