Horses Rescued from Smuggling Operation Expose Threat to Animal Welfare

Horses in a wagon being exported out of Dover

A recent interception at Dover port has shed light on the grim reality of illegal horse smuggling, underscoring the ongoing threat to vulnerable equines. A consignment of 26 horses and ponies, believed to be en route to slaughterhouses in Europe, was rescued by the esteemed equine charity, World Horse Welfare. The harrowing discovery revealed a distressing situation, with several animals unfit for travel and facing severe health challenges.

The overloaded transporter, intercepted at Dover, raised immediate concerns as only 19 of the 26 animals had the necessary documentation for international transport. Among the rescues were pregnant mares, unhandled young horses, and a mare suffering from severe arthritis, necessitating euthanasia. Adding to the gravity of the situation, at least one pony was found to be infected with Equine Influenza, posing a significant biosecurity risk.

The saga unfolded when authorities uncovered the abandoned horses at a holding yard in Kent, having been smuggled out of the UK. The animals, visibly distressed and vulnerable, had been crammed onto a transporter with insufficient paperwork and numerous health issues. According to World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers, this incident underscores the urgent need for enhanced legislation and enforcement to combat the illicit trade in horses.

Owers emphasized the complexities of the smuggling network, noting that many of the horses were British-born despite their alleged journey from the Republic of Ireland to France via Britain. He highlighted the likelihood of these horses enduring grueling journeys only to meet their demise in European slaughterhouses, emphasizing the urgent need for robust measures to protect equine welfare.


Upon arrival at World Horse Welfare’s Norfolk Rescue and Rehoming Centre, the horses were found to be carrying Equine Influenza, prompting a quarantine and treatment protocol to prevent further spread. The charity also noted multiple violations of transport regulations, including inadequate space allowance and the transportation of unhandled horses without proper documentation.

The rescued horses represent a spectrum of distressing cases, with pregnant mares and young colts among those most visibly affected. Despite ongoing efforts to combat live exports for slaughter, exemplified by the forthcoming Animal Welfare (Live Exports) Bill, World Horse Welfare stresses the imperative of secondary legislation to enforce the ban effectively.

Roly Owers concluded by urging governmental action to address the root causes of horse smuggling, emphasizing the need for a robust equine identification system and stringent enforcement measures. The Dover 26 serves as a stark reminder of the challenges facing equine welfare and the urgent need for decisive action to protect these vulnerable animals.


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Author: Suzanne Ashton Founder, Everything Horse Ba Hons Marketing Management email:

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