50 deserted horses to be rescued from ‘grim’ plight in Mournes

50 deserted horses to be rescued from ‘grim’ plight in Mournes

13 October 2021

AN operation is underway to remove sick and abandoned horses from the Mournes.

The animals are being removed from National Trust land with the conservation charity working in partnership with two animal rescue groups to safeguard their welfare.

Charity officials — who are working in partnership with Equine Halfway House and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary to manage the safe removal of the horses — say that while images of the animals grazing on the slopes of the mountains may make for an idyllic picture, the reality of their situation is “grim”.

The charity, which manages 1,400 acres of land, said the welfare of the horses must come first, explaining that the animals are not a wild breed and are unsuited for mountain living where food, water and shelter is scarce.

In addition, the National Trust said the animals are showing signs of inbreeding, genetic deformities, deadly parasite infestations and malnutrition. More than 30 ponies have been rescued to date, but up to 50 animals remain on the mountain.

The charity said the presence of the horses on its land has increased significantly over recent years, but particularly since the devastating wildfire in April reduced their grazing area, forcing them higher up Slieve Donard and Commedagh mountains.

The Trust’s area ranger, Marc Vinasfor, said the organisation has noticed an increase in the number of horses on its land in the past three years in particular.

He continued: “Since the fire in April, these animals have been seeking out fresh grazing around Millstone Mountain, Glen River Valley and Thomas’s Quarry and can be found in even greater numbers.

“People may enjoy looking at them, but the reality is that no one is taking responsibility for the safety and welfare of these ponies and so we are supporting two local equine rescue organisations in their efforts to remove these horses from our land and give them the care and attention they need.

“It’s important for the public to understand that these are not managed herds of hardy native breeds like the Exmoor ponies we use for grazing at Murlough Nature Reserve. They are domesticated horses in origin that have been abandoned in the mountains over a number of years and are not adapted for living in such harsh conditions.”

Charity officials say that years of incessant breeding has resulted in herds of feral horses roaming the Mournes, the majority of which are in extremely poor health and living on steep and uneven terrain that their build is entirely unsuited to.

Recently, this has resulted in the death of two ponies, one above Bloody Bridge and one foal named Sunnie 

removed from Commedagh with an open leg fracture that was so severe, the pony had to be humanely euthanised by a vet.

Katryna Gamble from Equine Halfway House said to the untrained eye, the horses may look quite healthy, but their rounded tummies are the result of a severe worm infestation.

“These parasites drain nutrition from the horses whilst at the same time swelling their bellies. If left untreated, this can result in long term health problems including gut damage, colic, weight loss, diarrhoea or even death.

“Prone to injury, with little food and limited access to fresh water, the horses run the risk of death in the wildfires that are increasingly common on the mountain, starvation or a painful death through injury. As the weather gets worse, my worry for their welfare increases.”

The ponies that remain on the mountain have no owners, no access to a vet in case of emergency and no person is responsible for them, except for staff from the rescue organisations, with the two animal sanctuaries keen to see more horses removed before winter sets in and conditions on the mountains become more severe.

A spokesperson from Crosskennan Lane said the rescued ponies will get veterinary, dentistry and farrier treatment.

She added: “Once this is achieved, we can look for suitable homes for the horses where they can live with the care they need as a domestic breed of equine.”

National Trust rangers will continue to support the two rescue groups in their efforts to remove the horses from the charity’s land as part of their ongoing work to manage the protected habitat , while  both Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary and Equine Halfway House would welcome any donations from the public to help cover veterinary and dentist bills, food and bedding. 

To donate visit https://gofund.me/cafaa20f