Possible Horse Cruelty. The surprising response from RSPCA
While out walking the dog off the lead over a public footpath and land at Cobham, I had to urgently recall the dog having seen a horse loose in the field maybe 50 yards away. it was not possible to predict how the horse or dog would respond. This is a field other dog walkers and myself use regularly, and for anyone who knows the area it is across the road from the Sainsbury’s petrol station at Cobham, next to the River Mole.
We then walked up to the horse and saw that it had been tethered to a small post in the ground and was attached by a metal chain. The mane of the horse was covered in flies. The horse, to a non-expert, looked healthy but was in a field exposed to bright sunlight with no cover. There was a plastic bucket of water on the edge of the circle surrounding the horse. The horse had clearly trampled the long grass underfoot in a circumference that his chain allowed. I am really unsure if the horse could reach the water. I simply do not know as did not want to go too close with a 9 month husky puppy very interested by this stage in the horse.
So what to do? I have sat through hours of TV programmes, mostly USA but some UK, detailing animal rescue services for various animals in distress. Two things came to mind. Firstly my presumption was that it was illegal to simply tether an animal on public ground. Secondly, the health issue potentially for the horse, particularly if it got warmer ( temperature was around 22c), or it could not reach the water, or reached and drank all the water.
I called the RSPCA at Godstone, they seemed geographically the nearest. After a series of messages and holding on, I was given a recorded message to call another 24 hour number. On dealing this number, there were again a number of options, none actually exactly what i needed, however eventually after listening to around 5 minutes of disturbing elevator music, I spoke to a young female operator. I outlined the problem. It was then somewhat surprising to learn that it was not illegal to tether a horse in this way, and that there was nothing they could do. In short they had no option but to wait until the horse became visibly distressed or presumably collapsed.
This seems to be the situation as summed up here:
Horses may be kept loose in fields crossed by public rights of way as long as they are not known to be dangerous.
Horses may not be ridden on public footpaths unless the landowner has given permission. A horse rider may be asked to leave any land over which they do not have the right to ride, and may be asked to pay for any damages caused. If a horse being ridden on a public bridleway or byway injures another person, the owner of the horse may be held responsible for the injuries, and the horse rider may be held responsible if they are shown to be negligent in controlling the horse.
A number of things come to mind including the potential for dogs in this field off the lead to worry or even attack the horse. The health of the horse ( I am no expert). The final option from the RSPCA woman to me was for me to observe and monitor the situation. Lastly it was difficult to see how the horse could enter or leave the field without using a public footpath. So lets see what happens.