Ellen Shipton
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Date Published:02 Mar 2021 Last Updated:22 Oct 2021

Can I feed any horse that I come across?

Specialist Sectors

Action urged as death toll rises

A recent survey undertaken by the University of Bristol found that 788 of 1,017 people who took part in the survey suspected and/ or had evidence that their horse had been fed without their permission. The number of incidents of people feeding horses that do not belong to them has risen since the first lockdown twelve months ago. It is suspected that this is down to more people heading out to the countryside for walks, runs and cycles and then feeding horses that they come across.

The same survey found that of the 1,017 participants, 220 horses were ill or injured because of being fed, 109 then required veterinary intervention, 81 did not make a full recovery and sadly 35 died or were put to sleep. Despite signs (“stop”, “don’t feed the animals”) being more commonplace as a result of the rise in incidents, many people unfortunately choose to ignore the signs and feed any horse/ pony they come across. Most people consider it “harmless” to feed a horse/ pony however, much like giving a dog chocolate, it is not advisable to feed a horse that is not yours as you are not aware of its dietary requirements or how it will react. Very recently a New Forest pony choked to death on a carrot, which just shows that even a carrot (arguably inoffensive to most horses/ ponies) can cause injury and/ or death. Unfortunately people are also feeding horses potatoes, sandwiches and nuts all of which can cause severe consequences. Even if you once knew a horse who ate sandwiches and enjoyed them, please do not assume that this applies to all horses. You should not be feeding any horse you come across.

It is important therefore to educate walkers and cyclists of the dangers of feeding horses/ ponies who are not theirs. If it is not your animal, do not feed it. In response to these sad incidents, a number of campaigns (such as “Lightning’s Legacy”) have been started by heartbroken owners who have sadly lost their steed. There is also a petition on the Government website to make feeding equines and livestock a criminal offence.

In addition, the British Horse Society launched its #BeHorseAware campaign last year in which it seeks to educate the public on the effects of feeding equines without permission. The campaign itself covers all aspects of “co-habiting” in nature with equines from ensuring that gates are left as they are found, ensuring your dog(s) are kept on leads near equines and not feeding any equines that you come across. The BHS believes that many people are acting out of concern for the horse or “kindness” rather than with any malicious intent. It is therefore hoped that the key to reducing such distressing incidents is through education.

If you have any equine related issues, please get in touch with our specialist Equine Law department by contacting us at equine@ellisjones.co.uk or by calling 01202 057732.