Owners are warned to be more vigilant

Horse owners must become much more aware about the risk of disease and how to prevent it.

That was the clear warning from Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, in his Christmas Message broadcast on YouTube this week.

'Disease does not differentiate between a Grade A show jumper and a pony in someone's back yard,' he said.

He urged everyone to be more vigilant, warning that an outbreak of a serious equine disease in the UK could spell disaster for the country's horse population.

He also referred to the problems faced by horse owners in looking after their horses as costs spiral. World Horse Welfare's Great British Horse Survey 2010 revealed that 80pc of horse owners worry about the costs of keeping their horses.

The number of equines being taken into the charity's care has risen by 50pc this year, putting enormous pressure on space, and Mr Owers urged anyone who could consider taking one on loan to visit the website.

But the Christmas Message now on YouTube (search for World Horse Welfare Christmas Message 2010) also included plenty to be cheerful about from this year. For instance, there are the 55pc of MEPs who signed a written declaration calling for substantially reduced journey times and improved conditions for horses being transported across Europe to slaughter.

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The charity's work further afield also gives it cause for pride, with overseas training projects running successfully in Africa, the conclusion of a five-year programme in Romania, and a new one just started in Honduras – the charity's fifth in Central America.

In the film accompanying the Christmas message there are images of World Horse Welfare horses both great and small — from massive Digger now training with the King's Troop to be a drum horse, to tiny Puddle, born at Hall Farm in Norfolk only a few weeks ago.

At the end of his eight minute-long message, Mr Owers says: 'Horses are only here because of us. We choose to breed them, we choose to own them and we derive great enjoyment from them. And horses depend on us to meet all their needs, so we are all responsible for their welfare.'