Horses are one of the world's most graceful and beautiful animals and as equine lovers will know, they bring a lot of pleasure to recreational riders and racers alike. In the UK however, a number of horse owners are unwittingly putting their animals in danger when transporting them and are often unaware of what they are doing wrong.
The Blue Cross animal charity is one organisation that is aware of the potential dangers when transporting horses and they have launched a 'Safer Trailer Campaign' to raise awareness of these dangers amongst horse owners. We spoke to Robert Webb-Bowen, Director of Equine Welfare at the Blue Cross about the initiative.
Why has the Blue Cross launched this campaign?
"We feel there is a need to reduce unnecessary injury, suffering and even death of horses during transportation by urging owners to undertake simple checks before transporting these animals by trailers. To help make more horse owners aware of the risks we have produced a Trailer Safety leaflet offering free practical advice and guidance on trailer safety and maintenance."
Why are horses being neglected in this way?
"They are not being neglected intentionally, but think of it this way: you wouldn't let your cat out of its basket while driving, unless you want to run the risk of having its claws sunk into you! You also wouldn't leave a dog in the car without leaving a window open enough to allow air in. We are all aware of the importance of ensuring that our cars are road worthy and we wouldn't dream of transporting any person or animal in it if we considered there to be any risk of injury. So why should we neglect this vital safety measure when transporting horses?"
Are there high levels of fatalities to horses through unsafe trailer transport and what can be done to prevent these accidents from happening?
"Fatal injuries to horses caused through unsafe trailer transport are more common than you think. Unlike other countries in Europe, the UK has no trailer MOT test, so making sure your own trailer is safe and legal is entirely your responsibility. Yet many horse owners remain unaware of how to keep their trailer in safe working order. The leaflet will help make horse owners aware of what is necessary"
What are some of the problems with trailers that can be easily avoided?
"Well we can take a gentleman called Peter Alexander as an example.
He set out on a short journey, taking his horse by trailer to a local indoor menage for a schooling session. He had no idea on the tragedy about to befall him. Unbeknown to Peter his trailer floor had a weak spot caused by a concealed crack and a six-mile journey turned into a nightmare. His horse broke the floor and got her leg trapped in the splintered wood. The resulting damage to her foot and leg were so severe that the horse had to be put to sleep.
But it is not just weakened floors that endanger horses. Many horse owners give no thought to the maintenance of the trailer's brakes, wheel bearings, hitch or lights, whose failure could result in an accident that will endanger the horse, tow car occupants and other road users."
So what would you say to people to ensure they don't go through the same thing as Peter?
"If you betray your horse's trust by not ensuring your trailer is safe, the consequences can be devastating. The horse could suffer terrible injuries if it goes through a floor or ramp, even if the trailer is parked, and faces a high risk of death if mechanical failure causes an accident. In addition, an out of control car and trailer has the weight to do a lot of damage so you risk the lives of everyone in and around your car. As I mentioned before the UK has no trailer MOT test, so making sure yours is safe and legal is something that needs to be taken very seriously"
For details of The Blue Cross Safe Trailer Transport of Horses Campaign
please visit the Blue Cross web-site at www.bluecross.org.uk
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