16/06/2020 The Horse Trust in Horse & Hound

This week Nicola Housby-Skeggs, Veterinary Director at The Horse Trust, the world’s oldest horse charity, talks about their work and looking after the Trust’s unique herd of horses.

Our priority is ensuring that our retired equine public servants from the Military, Police, Royal Mews, and charities such as the RDA, as well as rescued horses, ponies and donkeys, have a lifetime retirement with the highest possible standard of care. Most of the 149 horses we have at our Home of Rest in Buckinghamshire require a huge amount of extra attention and veterinary treatment, meaning the work facing our dedicated equine care team has intensified dramatically due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Many of our horses have retired from their working lives and suffer some form of long term problem such as osteoarthritis, equine asthma, and dental disease; many of these horses require some form of regular medication or treatments with some horses needing more intensive care at times. This takes a considerable amount of time, compassion, and patience from the whole team.

Everyone has been incredibly mindful of social distancing when going about their daily duties. Each member of the team has access to PPE and carry hand gel with them at all times as well as ensuring all gate handles are disinfected when used.

We have had to plan for many challenging scenarios and whilst we have been able to be proactive about many things, there are some situations you just cannot predict. Unsurprisingly, our equine welfare hotline has been inundated with enquiries; we have seen an 800% increase in the number of calls from people concerned about the welfare of an equine as well as an increase in people contacting us looking to rehome their horses due to financial difficulties. With a recession on the horizon it is unfortunately conceivable that all equine charities, including The Horse Trust, are going to be completely overburdened with welfare calls and cases over the coming months.

Something that we very much could not foresee was our farriers having to isolate for 14 days at short notice, meaning our regular farriery schedule was pushed back two weeks. In all, we had over 60 horses to bring onto the yard to have farriery work done all in one day! This meant it was all hands on deck and members of our desk-based team drove miles to help our equine care team ensure our horses could all get the treatment they needed.

During this outbreak we sadly lost two of our residents, Pandora, a rescue, and Clyde, who served with Thames Valley Police for 17 years. The emotional ties created by the individual quirks, likes and dislikes of our horses mean that the team, as well as our supporters and followers, were impacted by social distancing, not being able to support each other and grieve in the way we normally would.

Our equine training team has been working hard to adapt our professional training in horse care and welfare to online delivery to ensure that the important outcomes can still be shared using novel platforms. Similarly, we rely solely on people’s generosity to fund our work, and unfortunately had to close our site to the public and have already lost a significant amount of income from visitors, the tea room, our barn venue and open days, as well as income from stands at cancelled shows like Royal Windsor.

The ever-resourceful team has been coming up with innovative virtual tools such as our emergency online appeal and the introduction of virtual gifts that the public can buy to support our herd. Last month we launched Horse Trust TV, bringing The Horse Trust to people’s living rooms on a weekly basis via Facebook Live. This has been hugely popular, with a record number of likes, letting viewers get up close and personal with their favourite residents whilst supporting our work. It is wonderful to know that we can bring a smile to people’s faces with our gentle giants from Thames Valley Police, 18.2hh Caesar and his 18hh buddy Samson, or our cheeky Shetland pony Hamish and tiny 31 inch high Bear, on screen during this period of uncertainty.