DSPCA calls for new laws to stop import of ponies
A trade in surplus British ponies, which has led to many of them being ridden to death or inflicted with injuries, has been strongly criticised by a Dublin animal welfare inspector. He said the situation was "out of control".
The Shetland and New Forest ponies are being bought for as little as 20 pence in Britain and imported to Dublin via Northern Ireland.
They are fetching up to €250 in the city and are causing major problems for the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) and gardaí, particularly in areas such as Clondalkin, Tallaght and Ballyfermot.
DSPCA inspector Mr Robert Kenny estimated that up to 30 ponies a month were being imported. He said there was an urgent need for new laws to control the growing trade.
"It's basically lawless at the moment. It has got ridiculous. The horse market in Smithfield should be closed down." The degree of cruelty involved was part of the problem, but there was also a risk that someone would be killed by a careering animal, he said.
The society is trying to cope with the rising toll of injured ponies since the trade began about six months ago. Many of the ponies are so badly injured that they have to be put down where they are found to end their suffering. More than 180 horses and ponies have been recovered so far this year.
"We have had to shoot eight or nine in recent weeks, which is a lot. Every so often these ponies are taken off Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Shetland Islands because there are too many of them there. They are sold at markets to dealers, with others going as pets or for slaughter. Many of them go for as little as 20 pence because there isn't a big demand for them at the auctions. They are really just for kids. Obviously, the British Trading Standards Officers don't know they are coming over here.
"Dealers are making big profits bringing them here through Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"There are groups in England kicking up because they are going for slaughter, but they probably would have been better off going for slaughter than having to face the conditions we are finding them in."
DSPCA inspectors have found ponies with horrific injuries. They have been stuck in railings, had broken legs, severe rope burns and torn mouths, swollen knees and damaged tendons. Many of them are ill before they arrive.
"We have been taking them from youngsters on housing estates and some of them we have had to put down on site. A vet will charge up to €70 just to look at an injured animal. The kids just go and buy another one.
"A lot of the ponies are being ridden into the ground, get caught in fences, or their legs are ripped on rubbish or metal. There are a lot of burnt-out cars and corrugated metal lying around in the fields.
"We had to put one down in Clondalkin that had an arched back that went up like a hump. We don't know what caused it. He also had injured legs and swollen knees and his mouth was completely pulled off him. He mouth was red-raw. He was in an awful condition and in a lot of pain.
"We had to put another one down in Ballyfermot as its tendons had gone in both back legs and it had been there for a couple of days. The most horrific case involved a poor old horse in Tallaght. There was a herd of them and the owner had put a cotton bandage on her leg. The leg was actually snapped in half, completely. The only thing holding the leg together was a piece of flesh. It had been like that for days until it was found by a man walking a dog. We had to shoot it on site and when the council went to take the other five horses they were gone."
Mr Kenny said that the situation made a mockery of laws brought in to control the horse trade in Dublin. "We have a massive problem, but there is no point in the legislation if these guys are just bringing them in. There is a constant supply of these ponies. They have to stop them coming into the country."
Mr Kenny said that the Shetland ponies were only 26 to 42 inches in height and were not strong enough to cope with teenage riders. "They are suitable for three to five-year-olds. But older kids are buying them. When they are sitting on them, their feet are on the ground. Basically, they are walking or running with the pony."