- I’m usually sceptical about “horses stolen for meat” stories (unless they come from Florida), but this one rings true. A Romanian has been arrested in connection with the theft of several draft horses in eastern France, allegedly for the slaughter trade. Some of the horses were already being raised for meat. (The Horse)
- The English police horse who was punched by a drunk football fan has received boxes of polo mints from fans of the opposing team. (Daily Mail)
- A British university claims that the Carneddau ponies that died of starvation and exposure in Wales earlier this year are part of a genetically distinct breed that shares a common, but centuries-removed ancestor with Welsh Mountain ponies. (BBC)
- Ipswich Transport Museum is restoring a horsedrawn tram. The lightweight draft horses that drew these vehicles were dubbed “trammers” and in the nineteenth century typically only lasted a year between the shafts because of the effort of drawing the tram through often clogged tracks. (BBC)
- “Thank God for the horses. Thank God for the bloody horses,” – a trooper at the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. (ABC)
- Wild horse and burro sanctuaries in California, and how to visit them. (SFGate blogs)
- Awards for teenage boys who saved a trapped Shetland pony from drowning. (HorseTalk)
- I can’t keep up. Now the NYT is saying there will be federal approval for a horse slaughter house in New Mexico.. (NYT)
- A horse had to be euthanised in Belfast after hitting a car. The case raises ongoing concerns about horses that are kept untethered (or tethered, come to that) on housing estates in the city. (Belfast Telegraph)
- Interesting, given the cheap meat scandal: the value of horse meat exported from the UK has more than doubled in five years. (This Is Wiltshire)
- Horse racing begins again in Libya. (Al Arabiya)
- Seventh century horse armour/tack unearthed in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)
A long piece in The Shetland Times reports that the economic crisis is putting the pinch on the traditional Shetland pony, and how changing fashions in colour and size of pony are affecting the stalwarts in the isles:
Looking around the marts, my first impression is of a sea of red-and-white backs. You’d think Shetland ponies only came in skewbald. A closer look shows that every colour of Shetland pony is here: black, chestnut with a blonde mane, smoky grey or blue; red and white, black and white, bay, dun with a black back-stripe. Broken colours predominate, though, because colour is a key factor in the price a breeder can hope for, and unusual colours is what buyers want.
Another thing that affects the price is size. A Shetland can grow up to 42” at the shoulder and still be a Shetland under the Shetland Stud Book Society’s guidelines for breeders. EU rules say a registered Shetland must be accepted in the stud book, even if it is larger, although a too-tall colt can’t become a licensed stallion. However, the current fashion is for miniatures. …
There are a number of Shetland pony sales throughout Britain, with the Shetland Sale quickly followed by the Aberdeen sale and the seading Sale. This year’s Reading sale, held on 19th October, illustrates the different prices quite nicely. 13 colts went up for sale first. Only two went for just over £200, both small palominos. The top filly price of £1008 went for a “tiny” piebald filly – and we’re talking really tiny here. A number of catalogue entries give the current height as 22”, with parents of 30” or 31”. One filly’s mother is listed as being only 29”, and any broken-coloured blood in the foal’s ancestry is emphasised.
Of the 40 fillies sold, only four were plain colours – two black, two chestnut, and one of the blacks was the only filly sold for under £100. Seven larger foals were sold for prices between £105 and £190, and the rest – all miniature, all broken coloured – went for between £200 and £350. The five that gained prices over £500 were all miniature, and all unusually coloured – cremello, blue and white, cream skewbald.
The top price of the show, £1176, went to a licensed palomino stallion, 31”.
For more on the impact of the econmic crisis on British native ponies, check here (the negelct of semi-feral horses in South Wales), here (abandoned and dying ponies on Bodmin), and here (the culling of Dartmoor ponies). Prices are down at sales from the New Forest to the northern most isles, and both Dartmoor Hill Ponies and New Forests are being treated with contraceptives in an effort to end the sheer wastage of ponies. I can’t link directly to a piece on the charity Equine Market Watch’s website about falling prices and the way that UK legislation lets ponies down (they are not classified as agricultural animals and hence lack the protection that cattle and sheep have), but click on through. It’s called November 2011 Market Value of Ponies Plummets. This kind of news has been cropping up regularly since 2008.
I’d like to say straight off that I’m not a vet, also that to read this post properly you will have to click on a lot of links and read the material sourced at other sites in order to make up your own mind about this story. Anyone who is a vet is welcome to chime in and tell me if I’ve gotten something wrong, or been unintentionally misleading.
Several newspapers and media outlets are currently featuring the story of Minxy, a miniature horse recently born in Cornwall, whose owners are appealing for donations to raise £6,000 for operations on Minxy’s legs.
Here is a high-quality miniature horse foal for sale for £2,000 on the British Miniature Horse Society’s website. Notice that it “does exactly what it says on the tin” – i.e. it looks like a horse shrunk with a ray gun. Its legs are relatively long for its body, straight and well-conformed.
The owner talked to This is Cornwall:
“He needed feeding every half-hour and couldn’t stand to suckle from his mother,” said Ms Morris, who moved the pint-sized pony to her home to continue caring for him. “He was around six weeks premature and not fully formed. His legs were severely twisted.”
About £1,600 has already been spent on vets’ bills splinting Minxy’s legs to help straighten them and wrapping them in bandages each day.
“His front legs have become a lot stronger but his back legs will need pinning. He needs a scan which costs £800 per leg plus around £4,000 to operate.”
As others have pointed out, Minxy’s legs are not twisted because Minxy was premature. Minxy’s legs are probably twisted because Minxy suffers from dwarfism, and he was probably born early because Nature tries to press “eject” on pregnancies that are going awry. If you’re in the UK you can watch footage of him trying to walk here.
“Minxy also has problems with his throat. His teeth are growing to the back of his mouth and could block his airway, so he will need an operation to fix that,” she said.
This is a complication of brachiocephalism, the feature of dwarfism that gives Minxy that bulge-y “My Little Pony” head and curves his muzzles down like a beak or a claw. He’s reportedly already had pneumonia twice in ten weeks of life.
This site claims that the mortality rate for miniature horse foals in the USA is one in three; with due care and attention this can be reduced to one in ten. Needless to say, this is still ridiculously high. Here’s a memorial site for dwarf horses produced by US breeders. Notice that most of them live a few months at most.
So, what does the future hold for Minxy if he doesn’t succumb to another bout of pneumonia and end up like the poor wee things in Horsie Heaven?
Here’s a pony like Minxy being kept in an equine “wheelchair”.
Here’s another dwarf mini called Koda between his leg and skull operations, doing well, it seems, although whether his deformities were as severe as Minxy’s is unclear. He appears to be leading a relatively normal life. Once again, however, this is a numbers game, because horses have a poor survival rate with general anaesthesia.
Koda was lucky. There’s a good Horse and Hound summary of the risks here. The risks of fatality stand as follows:
- 1 in 110 for healthy horses
- 1 in 8 for horses undergoing colic surgery
- 1 in 20 for horses having fracture repair surgery
- 1 in 900 for cats
- 1 in 1,800 for dogs
- 1 in 10,000 for humans
For a pony like Minxy who is already very sick, the odds of surviving repeated operations are pretty poor. Furthermore, the recovery period is crucial. Horses’ digestive and respiratory systems have evolved to function best when the horse is moving more or less constantly. In the wild, horses spend very little time either on their sides or immobile (they sleep for only 3 hours out of 24, and usually stand to do it as the weight of their internal organs is not well supported when they are prone), and horses recuperating from leg operations usually spend time in cross ties or even slings to immobilise them.
The most famous recent example is the American racehorse Barbaro who broke down catastrophically and publicly in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. Wikipedia has a blow-by-blow breakdown of his subsequent operations and the eight months he spent being treated for the complications resulting from that initial treatment. One operation turned into many, and the horse finally had to be euthanized when three his legs became laminitic as a result of taking the weight for his injured right hind leg.
So, what do you think Minxy’s future holds?
Incidentally, the UK currently has a surplus of native ponies, which I’ve written about here, here and, in most detail, here. In February the Mail reported that dead ponies were found on Bodmin Moor, not far from Minxy’s home. It would cost a lot less than £6,000 to snap up some ponies at UK markets, worm them, feed them and train them up till they had some value and were less likely to be sold for zoo meat. Dartmoors, New Forests, Welshies and Exmoors may not be the smallest ponies in the world, but I think they’re pretty damn cute.
UPDATE: Minxy was put down in early August, on vets’ advice.
Another depressing piece on ponies kept on common land, this time on the Gower peninsula. It’s from This is South Wales:
It costs as little as £2 to buy some foals — less than a pint of beer — but around £200 to put them down and dispose of them, according to the Gower Commoners Association (GCA).
This has led to more people buying ponies and horses who then find out they can’t afford vets’ bills and rising feed costs.
…Concerned residents and walkers have contacted the Post saying they have seen dead or malnourished horses and ponies on the peninsula.
John Lovett of Cockett was confronted by a dead horse last Sunday while walking along cliffs near Overton last Sunday.
“It was one of a group,” he said. “It didn’t look too old. Its eyes were gone. You could see the ribs of another one. It’s been a really harsh winter. They don’t have much to eat. I sometimes bring carrots to feed them.”
There are people who still breed these horses. Who fail to give them minimal care. Who cling to the “tradition” of keeping horses even when it makes no economic sense to raise them as a cash crop, and when the horses are dying under their eyes.
Horses don’t “need” to be kept on any common land. It’s nice to have them there, but not when they’re corpses with their eyes pecked out.
- mutilated pony found in Hampshire ditch, police say “it would appear that its body has been mutilated to prevent it from being identified or its owners traced.”
- filly with broken neck found in Buckinghamshire. “It was emaciated, had a broken neck and both hind legs were bound together and the rope tied to a gatepost. It is thought that the pony was tied to the gate while on the back of a trailer and was pulled off the vehicle and onto the road as it moved off.”
- pony freezes to death after being trapped in a lake in Carmarthenshire.
- Devon man caught on CCTV committing bestiality with horses over ten month period.
- a herd of seventy stray, abandoned horses is causing chaos in Llanelli.
- a seventeen-year-old Australian teenager has been charged with animal cruelty after dragging a Shetland pony stallion behind his car on Christmas day.
Good news? Good news there is!
- Anapka the parasailing Russian donkey has a new home.
- fourteen of the most vulnerable horses rescued from Spindles Farm by the Horse Trust are now thriving.
- the wonderful Horse Rescue Fund in Norfolk is preparing for a springtime sponsored walk to raise money. They’re a great small charity who re-home most of their horses and have been campaigning against the live transport of horses for slaughter for decades. I knew a couple of their rescues – Woodstock and Orlando – at Cringleford Riding School in the eighties. One of their current residents snapped by me, below:
UPDATE: I’ve added a second post here with a historical perspective on ponies on the moor.
Over 700 Dartmoor hill ponies have been killed in the last 12 months as breeders attempt to reduce their herds.
In 1980, the population was estimated at around 30,000, but this figure has steadily dwindled to around 1,500 this year.
My little pony: But the problem for ponies on Dartmoor is that not enough people want, or can afford them. Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession
Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession.
The others were older ponies rounded up for slaughter by breeders who were ordered to reduce the numbers in their herds to help the market recover.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s really about the recession, as this report suggests. The Daily Mail itself ran a similar report in 2001, which prompted Georgina Andrews to write a piece for them about rescuing five foals. At the time there was no global recession, and yet the Dartmoor Hill Ponies were selling for 50p a time.
The breeders of the ponies who end up in these sales can’t get good meat money for them any more as the market is flooded – by other breeders like themselves. If they don’t immediately go for slaughter, the ponies have to be chipped and passported, which of course costs far more money than a slipshod pony breeder is prepared to spend, and much more than the market value of a worm-ridden, unbroke and feral pony foal or its carcass.
This new cull is grim news but perhaps will save a section of a few future generations of Darties from being bred indiscriminately by owners who aren’t prepared to put the time, money and effort into keeping them healthy and making them an attractive proposition to buyers who want riding ponies, rather than handbags (as suggested by Equine Rescue France, who noticed tiny spotted British ponies being sold for unfeasibly large sums in France, very possibly for the fashion trade in Italy). However, how long will it last?
I’m sure there are responsible breeders of Dartmoor Hill Ponies out there, but they’re being let down by others who appear to think that it’s more important to have a lot of uncared-for, shonky foals on the hills than to step up and manage the herds properly. I’m pretty certain that deer on the moors are better managed than some of these ponies. Perhaps their breeders could take a leaf out of the gamekeeper’s book, or, above all, stop passing the buck to the general public and the kill buyer (as at this Brecon semi-feral hill pony sale), and just refrain from breeding foals that they can’t care for. You don’t have to cull foals that don’t exist.
Edited to add: and here’s a 1998 Independent story about “the bottom dropping out of the Dartmoor pony market”. It’s not like they haven’t had notice…