Fly Grazing: Legal Precedent?

Vale of Glamorgan council are moving faster now, perhaps in light of the episode in which forty horses were left to trash Woodland Trust land. Sixty horses dumped on land near Cardiff Airport have been rehomed via charities like Redwings, Horse World and the Bransby Home of Rest for Horses. The BBC reports:

… as the landowner, the council had been left to foot the bill for their care and welfare.

Under the Animals Act 1971, a landowner can issue a 14-day notice for the owner of animals left on its land to claim them, after which the landowner becomes the legal owner.

A letter in the local Penarth Times draws attention to the frequency with which fly grazing occurs in the Vale:

This mass grazing started around mid-January 2011 and by the end of February, to local knowledge, there had been at least six to seven deaths, including two fatalities before December 2010.

The numbers of horses and ponies vary from 150 to 400 at any stage, all at different locations, however when they don’t have food they break out or are let out. Every day horses are out on public highways, dual carriageways, school rugby fields, and busy A roads. Police are regularly called out, up to 30 times in any one week.

In the spring of 2011, 20 horses were dumped at Rhoose Airport site. All were re-homed except for one which had to be put to sleep.

However, later in the year a considerable number of foals were dumped in the same field, with one thrown over the fence. She was taken in by the Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies but later had to be put to sleep due to a broken pelvis. A number of others also died from Strangles, a dreadful disease. But these horses and ponies are still being moved around, spreading the disease.

Horses are struggling in South Wales, through no fault of their own. Last year commoners on Gower complained about the low value of their horses, which grazed on public land, and seventy strays were abandoned in Llanelli. Free-roaming horses were fitted with high-visibility collars after being hit by cars. The admin involved in introducing horse ownership licences would be huge and the loopholes inevitable, but when you read about case after case of fly grazing and neglect, it’s hard not to consider it.

21–05–2012 update: Horse and Hound on a bid to alter the law so that field owners can passport and sell horses left on their land.

Wave of Mutilations

Last weekend two British horses were found dead and mutilated in their fields. The first, a seven-year-old rescued pony called Barney from Carmarthenshire was found with his eyes gashed and a long slash in his side. The second, a two-year-old Friesian called Erik from Cornwall had been castrated, blinded, gutted and had its teeth pulled out. One local horse owner believes that the same attackers may have been responsible for the death of her Shetland near Bodmin in 2006 (news item from the BBC):

Mrs Penn said: “I was led to believe there are cults and they made sacrifices on specific days.” Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation. “It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

The RSPCA’s spokesperson for the region, Jo Barr, said: “It’s impossible to know at the moment what the motivation was behind the attack. “I have been with the RSPCA for eight years. In my time I am only aware of one incident which was potentially linked. There were a couple of attacks on Dartmoor on sheep. There were suggestions that the bodies were left in a formation, I believe it was a pentangle, it was suggested it was linked to Satanic practices or witchcraft.”

Today it emerged that Barney died of natural causes and the police have closed the case: I’m assuming that this means that the “mutilations” he suffered were committed by wild animals, post mortem.

Whenever a horse is found with injuries that seem out of the ordinary people begin to talk about “horse rippers” and Satanists. In fact, most equine injuries are caused by… other horses, as this 2004 Guardian piece points out:

Ted Barnes, a field officer with the International League for the Protection of Horses, and a former member of the Met unit, calculates that 80 per cent of suspected horse attacks are not committed by humans. “In by far the largest percentage of cases where the animal has been harmed, it is either self-inflicted or inflicted by another horse. A lot of people find this hard to believe, but it does happen,” Barnes said.

The article does, however, also point out strings of attacks that clearly had human involvement, in particular one run in South Yorkshire in 2003:

In the run-up to the summer solstice, there were at least 12 attacks on horses in fields along the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border. One horse had eight litres of blood drained from its stomach, while stones depicting five-pointed stars were found in the surrounding fields. Some of the animals had their tails removed, and others had their manes plaited in intricate patterns – signs of black magic practices. Despite 24-hour surveillance, police caught no one. There had been similar attacks in Nottinghamshire at Hallowe’en the previous year, but no one was arrested.

Most Satanists and most Pagans would happily point out that their religion has nothing to do with these kinds of practices. The links to various significant dates seem rather arbitrary to me (there’s always a new one) but it also seems extraordinary that in these days of exposés, anonymous blogs and Deepnet there could be practices so arcane that they could baffle the mainstream for decades. Are there really no clues out there?

UPDATE: Ministry of Truth has a good breakdown on the “Satanic horse mutilation” hysteria, although they do ruin it all by proposing that Eric was in fact stolen and replaced with a, er, dead ringer. Obviously not paying attention to horse prices lately… Even if someone found a pedigree Friesian who looked exactly like Eric, it would be a pretty expensive swap, or else one that’s so economically pointless that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

UPDATE 2, 16th January 2012: Another young stallion has been found dead in Devon with wounds to his eyes and genitals. Although the police are sure that he died of natural causes, his owners believe that at least one of the injuries is too clean to have been made by an animal.

“Fly Grazing” – the New Name for Crappy Horseownership Practices

The BBC reports on a herd of forty cobs dumped on a conservation area in the Vale of Glamorgan and left to decimate the grazing and starve to death. The police cannot get involved as this is a “civil matter” and the villagers have explored every legal avenue, so the horses will probably be destroyed. Sad and pointless, though my flippant suggestion would be that the Woodland Trust tidy them up and sell ’em in the US as gypsy vanners for five-figure sums.

EDIT: At 3pm today I received a round robin email from Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk saying that they were in negotiations to rescue the ponies. The BBC has, however, reported that all the ponies were removed overnight – presumably by the owner.

The Further Adventures of the Littlest White Pony

Wales Online has snagged an exclusive interview with Joe Purcell and his white Welshie Ruby, aka the Train Pony.

And the 68-year-old said pregnant section A pony Ruby would have been as “good as gold” on the Wrexham to Holyhead train from which they were both turned away last Saturday.

He said: “Ruby’s bomb proof. Kids can lie down underneath her. She wouldn’t walk on them and she wouldn’t bite them because she loves kids.

“She’s a little Welsh lady who would have been 100% on the train. I’ve raised cattle and horses all my life like my father and grandfather before me.

“I told the conductor she was my guide. People have guide dogs – why can’t they have guide ponies?

“But I was drunk at the time – I was on the top shelf. …

He caught a train between High Wycombe and Wolverhampton in 2006 with a traveller-bred, 15-hands high horse named Queenie.”

Later he and Ruby went for a kebab.

Training Your Pony

From the BBC:

A man has been captured on CCTV trying to board a train accompanied by a pony.

Shocked staff watched as the man tried to get on the train at Wrexham General station with the white pony in tow

After a conductor refused him entry, the man returned to the ticket booth where he tried to buy two tickets – for himself and the animal.

Wales Online reports on the hunt to find the man:

The man, believed to be a traveller known as Joe, tried to get on the train at Wrexham and journey to Holyhead on Saturday evening.

But he was turned away by the train’s conductor before trying to buy tickets for himself and the animal at the station.

The man also took the horse to Wrexham Maelor Hospital’s A&E department.

UPDATE – after the eventful trip to the train station and hospital, the pony was taken to a pub.

Pony train-travel afficionados probably recall that David Freeman-Mitford, aka Baron Redesdale once bought a Shetland pony called Brownie in London for his children. He brought it back to their town residence in a hansom cab and stabled it overnight in a box room, planning to take it to their country home by train the next day. On being told that it could not travel in the goods van, he announced that he, the pony, his wife and children would all travel third class instead.

Keeping Tradition “Alive”

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.

Keeping Large Numbers of Horses during a Recession


Some 250 horses have been dumped in Bridgend by owners who, it seems, could not afford to feed nor care for them. There are rumours that some have been killed on the roads already, and a few have died of lung infections or starvation. In the photo on the Daily Mail’s site you can see them picking soiled straw out of a muck heap. The Mail article also has details of a local charity which is trying to take in the horses, and which needs donations desperately.



Ensure that the horses are inanimate when you take delivery of them, rather than afterwards, when  you have bought lots and discovered that you can’t feed them and they subsequently starve to death. In other words, hoard model horses.

My final outlet for childhood horse-craziness was collecting and showing Breyer model horses. You took artful photographs of your stud of fine beasts and posted them off to someone in Spokane who was running a show. A few weeks later, a big manilla envelope would come back with a typed and photocopied list of results and perhaps – perhaps! – some slips of coloured ribbon and homedrawn certificates.

You could join an association, register your horses and mail off each horse’s cumulative results at the end of each year so that they could earn points towards a Register of Merit of Legion of Merit badge. You could spend hours researching pedigrees for them and toiling over adverts for your stallions. I even branched out into racehorses a few years before I went to university (when horses real and inanimate fell by the wayside).

Anyway, a friend passed on another friend’s new blog, dedicated to the nerdy and deeply satisfying practice of researching pedigrees for model horses, and you can read about the process here, at ‘Pedigree Chum’. The internet was only just beginning to kick in when I gave up and sold my virtual racehorses, but I do find them mentioned here and there on the net still (ah, idle Googling). And of course, the models are still prancing dustily along the shelves in my bedroom in Norwich: Surafic, Torah Tanak, Mishmish II. Sorry about that, Mum and Dad!