The story of Robyn
Horses grazing in the Mourne Mountains may make for an idyllic picture, but the reality of their situation is grim warns conservation charity the National Trust.
The National Trust, which looks after 1,400acre of land in the Mournes, is working in partnership with animal rescue groups Equine Halfway House and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary to manage the safe removal of sick and abandoned horses from its land in the Mourne mountains.
Horses are not a new feature on the mountain but their presence on land managed by the National Trust has increased significantly over recent years, particularly since the wildfire in April reduced their grazing area, forcing them higher up Slieve Donard and Commedagh mountains.
“We’ve noticed an increase in the number of horses on our land in the last three years in particular,” explains Marc Vinas, Area Ranger for the National Trust.
“Since the fire in April, these animals have been seeking out fresh grazing around Millstone Mountain, Glen River Valley and Thomas’s Quarry and can be found in even greater numbers.
“People may enjoy looking at them, but the reality is that no one is taking responsibility for the safety and welfare of these ponies and so we are supporting two local equine rescue organisations, Equine Halfway House and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary, in their efforts to remove these horses from our land and give them the care and attention they need.
“It’s important for the public to understand that these are not managed herds of hardy native breeds like the Exmoor ponies we use for grazing at Murlough Nature Reserve,” continues Marc. “They are domesticated horses in origin that have been abandoned in the mountains over a number of years and are not adapted for living in such harsh conditions.”
Years of incessant breeding has resulted in herds of feral horses roaming the Mournes, the majority of which are in extremely poor health, living on steep and uneven terrain that their build is entirely unsuited to.
Recently this has resulted in the death of two ponies, one above Bloody Bridge and one foal named Sunnie removed from Commedagh with an open leg fracture that was so severe, the pony had to be humanely euthanised by a vet.
Commenting on the condition of the horses, Katryna from Equine Halfway House said: “To the untrained eye the horses may look quite healthy, but their rounded tummies are the result of a severe worm infestation. These parasites drain nutrition from the horses whilst at the same time, swelling their bellies. If left untreated, this can result in long term health problems including gut damage, colic, weight loss, diarrhoea or even death.
“Prone to injury, with little food and limited access to fresh water, the horses run the risk of death in the wildfires that are increasingly common on the mountain, starvation or a painful death through injury. As the weather gets worse, my worry for their welfare increases.”
As it currently stands these ponies have no owners, no access to a vet in case of emergency and no person who is responsible for them, except for staff from the rescue organisations.
To date over 30 ponies have been rescued from the mountain, but it’s estimated that at least 25-50 remain and the Trust, in partnership with Equine Halfway House and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary is keen to see more horses removed before winter sets in and conditions on the mountains become more severe.
Mourne Horse Watch is a Facebook page set up by a Crosskennan Lane volunteer to try and determine the location of the dozens of abandoned horses, ponies and donkeys on the Mournes. Members of the public who come across the animals while hiking or walking in the mountains are being asked to take pictures, drop a pin on Google maps and send a private message to the Mourne Horse Watch page who will use this information to locate the animal.
A spokesperson from Crosskennan Lane said: “Our aim is to rescue the ponies from the mountain so they can be brought back to good health by receiving the required veterinary, dentistry and farrier treatment. Once this is achieved, we can look for suitable homes for the horses where they can live with the care they need as a domestic breed of equine.”
Katryna from Equine Halfway House adds: “The ponies we have rescued from the Mournes are worked with daily. Stallions and colts are castrated, some get daily physio sessions and massages every few weeks, hernias are being observed, feet are being trimmed to try to help leg deformations.
“They are enjoying a feed bucket daily and some enjoy a good brush. They are outdoors, with a constant supply of hay or haylage and field shelters to use if they wish. In time they will go to homes, carefully vetted by myself, in fact several have already gone to foster homes. They will not be released back into the wild as these are not wild animals, they are mostly feral, bred from domesticated breeds.”
Katryna continues: “The wild breeds that do exist, on moors, hills and fells across the UK and Ireland, such as the Dartmoor, Exmoor, and Fell ponies are all chipped, passported, controlled and cared for. They are not left to roam over many square miles, with nobody taking responsibility for their welfare.”
National Trust rangers will continue to support the two rescue groups in their efforts to remove the horses from trust land in the Mournes as part of their ongoing work to manage this protected habitat so nature can thrive, while also ensuring it’s safe and accessible for the many people who love, care for and visit this special place.
To find out more about the work of the Trust in the Mournes visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mournes
Both Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary and Equine Halfway House would welcome any donations from the public to help cover veterinary and dentist bills, food and bedding. To donate please visit https://gofund.me/cafaa20f