Horses that are tied up without sufficient water, food and shelter are becoming an increasingly frequent issue, according to the Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation. The cost of keeping and caring for horses and ponies mean that, in a bad economy, some are being neglected.
The Cayman Islands Department of Agriculture will impound horses and ponies that are being kept in inhumane conditions, and take them to their equine pound until such time as new homes are found.
The Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 200 horses in Grand Cayman, although no official census is taken. For the past four years, between four and six horses each year have been confiscated from the owners and taken to the pound.
The Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation, which in addition to organising and supporting equestrian activities, works in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture to promote and support equine welfare, believes the actual number of horses and ponies may be closer to 400, and the number of neglected horses may also be higher.
“Last year was definitely a worse year,” said Milly Serpell, president of the Cayman Islands Equestrian Federation. “And that’s what really prompted us to take action.”
Owning and caring for horses and ponies is a long-term financial commitment. Food and hay costs alone will generally run to $100 to $150 per month, estimates Jodie McTaggart, welfare officer with the federation. Factoring in shelter and other expenses, keeping a horse is likely to cost the owner between $200 and $300 per month.
“Sometimes people just run out of cash. They can’t afford to look after their horses any more and they get neglected,” Ms Serpell said.
“It’s not illegal for horses to be tethered at the side of the road in Cayman, as long as they have food and water,” Ms McTaggart added. “But horses can drink up to 10 gallons of water per day. Some owners will drop off five gallons of water, and then won’t come back for a week. That water will only last the horse a day.”
When the Department of Agriculture is compelled to confiscate a horse that is neglected or abused, the horse is taken to the equine pound close to the Agricultural Show Grounds in Savannah. There, the horses receive food and shelter and new homes are found for those that make a good recovery.
“If they are really badly abused, and are in pain, or they have broken bones that have not healed or are tragically lame, they may have to be put down,” Ms McTaggart said.
Recognising the budget cuts affect all government departments and that equine neglect is not the most pressing issue the government has to deal with, the CIEF seeks to assist the Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare division in whatever ways they can.
Federation staff will sometimes simply deliver water and hay to horses that are known to them, or offer assistance to the owners of certain horses. This month, they are turning their attention to the equine pound where rescue horses are kept.
“It’s just not a proper facility to be holding horses,” said Ms McTaggart, indicating the stony ground. “The pens were originally made for cows, who have cleft feet and can walk on rocky ground easily. But horses have a flat pad on the bottom of their feet that is quite sensitive, so it’s not comfortable for them.”
“Horses like to lie down, roll and stretch their backs,” Ms Serpell added. “If they roll on these rocks, they can get hurt. There is also no real shade for them here.”
The federation has recruited 20 or so volunteers from Mourant Ozannes, as well as a number of their own members, who will all work together on Sunday, 28 April, to fix up two enclosures, providing rescued horses a more comfortable place to rest and recuperate.
The plan is to clear the ground of stones and rocks, to create a surface that is comfortable for the horses to walk on. Wooden fencing will be erected inside the enclosures and they will also spread some footing (sand or sawdust) on the ground in the shaded area, so that the horses have a place to lie down.
The CIEF welcomes any additional volunteers who can assist in fixing up the pound, and particularly anybody with construction or maintenance experience. Those interested in volunteering can contact the Jodie McTaggart at 916-6451.