The fantastic horse charity World Horse Welfare, who are based in the UK, are teaming up with the Highveld Horse Care Unit (HHCU) in South Africa. The new partnership’s main aim is to focus on urgent work to alleviate the suffering and improve the treatment of horses held in government pounds in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a small landlocked country surrounded by South Africa.
HHCU is one of three horse care units in South Africa and, in 2011, the charity became aware of welfare issues relating to horses in Lesotho's government pounds. The country has an estimated 87,000 horses and 146,000 donkeys labouring to help their owners earn a living by pulling carts and working the land.
In South Africa horses play a huge role in the livelihood of communities and those that are suspected of being stolen are impounded by the government and retained until they are claimed by their rightful owners. However, HHCU's inspections of government pounds have revealed appalling cases of neglect. No funds are available to provide even basic feed and water for the horses and death from starvation is often the outcome.
World Horse Welfare has specialist expertise and many years of experience gained working in different countries and cultures, where the status and uses of the animals are different and the skills to ensure their welfare often lacking. The charity has had teams in Lesotho since 2007, working with local communities to provide equine nutrition and welfare education, and training saddlers and farriers, thus helping to improve animal welfare.
The HHCU has extensive knowledge of similar situations from its township and rural work in central provinces of South Africa but the charity is not mandated to operate outside of South Africa. World Horse Welfare's international status will enable the two charities to work in collaboration in Lesotho, with knowledge transfer between the two helping to ensure the project achieves significant success.
Two key aims of the HHCU and World Horse Welfare project are to introduce a basic ‘Code of Practice' for the management of equines by governmental authorities, and to reduce the impoundment period of live animals, with regular auctions taking place to find new homes for the animals.
Early collaborative work by HHCU and World Horse Welfare has meant that some animals have been allowed to graze on land adjoining government pounds and water facilities have been improved. These changes are a direct result of the inspections, intervention, negotiation skills and persuasive powers of the HHCU, which could not have been realised without a four wheel drive vehicle, supplied by World Horse Welfare. The HHCU's qualified inspectors cover great distances in order to conduct regular visits to Lesotho to inspect the condition of the equines in government pounds, and a powerful vehicle is a necessity.
In addition to their programme within the government pounds, HHCU and World Horse Welfare aim to work together to further assist animals in need in rural areas, providing support and medication where possible.
Through the partnership, World Horse Welfare's training and education programme can be expanded to include more local communities. 41 saddlers and 42 farriers have so far been trained by World Horse Welfare, with a view to them establishing their own business enterprises and helping others to care for and improve the outcome of their working animals.
Karen O'Malley, World Horse Welfare's Head of Programme Development commented on the partnership: "Our work in Lesotho over the past few years has been very rewarding and we are proud to be able to join HHCU in this vital new programme. By pooling our resources and skills, we are confident that we can achieve considerable improvements to the welfare of the horses housed in government pounds and to those working to help provide a livelihood for rural communities."
Bev Seaborne, HHCU Manager added: "We are deeply concerned about the condition of the horses that are imprisoned pending the outcome of court cases, as well as the unfortunate stray equines housed in the same conditions. With the help of World Horse Welfare and using persuasion and discussion, rather than aggressive publicity or naming and shaming, we hope to be able to promote positive long term change in animal welfare practices in the Kingdom of Lesotho."