The following article was published in 2001, but is still as relevant now, as it was at the time of publication.
Horses sold for petfood as owners duped
Sunday, January 28 2001 The Observer
Hundreds of horses sent into early retirement by their loving owners are being chopped up and sold as dog food by con men.
The owners are being duped into handing over their old horses by criminals who sell them for pet food at £100 each. Police say they know of hundreds of horses that have disappeared, and have uncovered one conspiracy that spans the country.
Hampshire police recently made four arrests after a two-year undercover operation, and are preparing 20 specimen charges. A spokeswoman said: ‘We have got a lot of horses missing. We know it’s common. The owners are really distraught.’
When a horse is too old to ride, owners who cannot afford to keep it often try to find it a new life as a ‘companion horse’ in a stables, keeping other horses company. Ann Pritchard’s horse, Sally, disappeared after she answered an advert in a horse magazine saying ‘companions wanted’. A man came the next morning, showing photographs of where the horse would be kept and of his own horse, which was pining away because it was on its own.
Ann Pritchard trusted the man and handed Sally over. But when she tried to visit her old horse he said she couldn’t and became abusive. One of her friends telephoned him a few days later and he said he still needed a companion horse.
‘I’m very, very upset – it’s very stressful. I didn’t sleep for the first fortnight. I can’t believe I was taken in by this man,’ said Ms Pritchard. ‘I thought I had found a good home for Sally, but instead she’s almost certainly been sold to the knacker’s yard. I haven’t told my daughter yet – it would really upset her.’
In another type of scam, old and injured horses are given a strong painkiller, which disguises the fact that they are lame. They are then sold for thousands of pounds. The new owners quickly discover they have been conned and often sell the horses, which end up in abattoirs.
The con men entice owners through classified advertisements but use only mobile phone numbers. One recent advert in Horse magazine said: ‘Companion horse wanted – any offers considered.’ Another read: ‘Wanted on permanent loan. Any height stamp, loving farm awaits.’
The dealers usually make sure that the owner never sees the horse’s supposed new home. However, in some cases, dealers have persuaded owners to go to fake locations where there are other horses. When they return to visit their horse, they find the place deserted.
Nichola Gregory of the British Horse Society said: ‘It’s fairly widespread. There are a lot of people who can’t afford to look after their horses and a lot of other people who want to make money out of it.’
Many horse owners feel intimated by the dealers and are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.
‘They are the sort of people who set a hay barn on fire or poison a horse,’ one said.
Sometimes the dealers offer a token sum to the owners for the ‘companion horse’ because it means that they are buying it and so have a legal right to do with it whatever they want. If they simply take the horse without payment, the owners could have some legal redress.