THERE are fears that horses could be dumped by their owners as they cannot afford to keep them.

Hundreds of incidents were recorded across Sussex last year and, with many facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis, it is feared thousands of animals could soon be at risk.

A “horse crisis” was seen after the financial crash of 2008 and the RSPCA has said it is “extremely concerned” the UK could be about to plunge into a similar situation.

Last year there were more than 4,370 incidents involving horses in the South East of England with 234 of these being recorded in West Sussex.

As a result, welfare charities were left overwhelmed with hundreds of animals in their care.

And the RSPCA now fears there could be much worse to come if the continuing coronavirus crisis sparks a global recession.

It says that an estimated 7,000 horses in the UK are at risk of suffering in the coming months as a result.

As a result, the RSPCA is appealing for donations to help it handle a vast increase in demand on its staff and resources.

Christine McNeil, the charity’s national equine inspectors co-ordinator, said: “This is a truly worrying time for equine charities.

“In April 2011, before the effects of the financial recession had hit, the RSPCA had 290 horses in its care, already more than our official stables could house.

“The following year, the impact of the crisis really began to hit and our officers were called out every day up and down the country to neglected and abandoned horses.

“By May 2012, the number of horses in our care had leapt to 600.

“Fast-forward to today, and we’re caring for 927 horses –that’s three times the number since the crisis hit and we strongly fear that the impact will be even worse this time round.

“With such a huge number of horses in our care and so many in private boarding, at great cost, we have already had to adapt how we try to help as many horses as we can.

“For example, several ‘herds’ of horses in need are being cared for in situ with our officers visiting regularly to feed and care for them, until we can find spaces in one of our centres for them, or funds to transport them to private boarding.

“Our Sussex-based animal collection officer Julie Parsons was a great example of this when she was travelling each day to check on a group of neglected Shetland ponies.

“Thankfully now the herd is being cared for at one of our animal centres.”