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A study is underway to guage the extent of ireland's welfare problems

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker  

Irish Government adds backing to welfare study

A GIANT step was yesterday taken to address Ireland's equine welfare concerns, brought about by the recession, when the government pledged to fund a study to determine the true extent of the abandoned horse population.

There have been claims that the whereabouts of as many as 20,000 horses are unknown in Ireland due to the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, a figure dismissed by racing and breeding professionals. But until now little action had been taken to guage the true extent of the issue.

At the request of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association [ITBA],  the Irish Equine Centre in Naas, County Kildare has been employed to carry out a comprehensive study and will next week begin examining every factor of horse welfare.

The project is being co-funded with Sheikh Mohammed's Kildangan Stud and yesterday received a boost of €10,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and a promise of continued commitment to horse welfare from TD Simon Coveney.

The minister said: "The study is timely in that there has been media coverage at home and overseas recently, much of it unsubstantiated, regarding the fate of unwanted horses. This is unhelpful to the image of Ireland as a caring and horse producing society.

"This research will provide guidance for any further policy initiatives and/or legislative measures that may be needed to further advance horse welfare."

Dr Des Leadon of the Irish Equine Centre said a confidential email questionnaire was ready to begin the information-gathering stage as early as Monday, and he hoped this would benefit not only Ireland but horse welfarethroughout Europe.

He said: "If we can prove that our template, which we have worked very hard on by studying previous literature and past surveys, works then I hope it is something that can be repeated on a yearly basis and usedby other European countries. This way we can keep on top of it and take necessary steps quicker.

"We're hoping to complete this as quickly as possible, certainly by the year's end, and hopefully before that."

Those set to participate in the research include thoroughbred owners and breeders, abattoirs, charities, sanctuaries and local authorities. All will receive a personalised survey in order to obtain invaluable statistics like capacity of equine sanctuaries in operation and the number of interventions made by councils under the Control of Horses Act, 1996.

The ITBA began raising awareness of this issue in April 2009 by producing a guide to horse welfare and responsible ownership. Itfollowed that by running workshops on breeding for quality not quantity with Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and drove a joint response with Horse Racing Ireland and Horse Sport Ireland to an extensive report by Veterinary Ireland president Joe Collins and University College Dublin [UCD] into the matter last August.

UCD have come on board again to assist the Irish Equine Centre's new research with experienced equine vet and lecturer Dr Vivienne Duggan in thedriving seat. Leading pupil Dillon O'Toole is also on the team.

 

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