The variety of ways in which horses are used means attempts at an equine population census is tricky, a new report finds
All over Europe, horses, donkeys and others in the equine family are used for labour, sport, as food – whether labelled correctly or not – and also as pets. However, that very versatility makes an equine census difficult. Nobody is sure exactly how many horses live in the fields, meadows, paddocks and barns of the EU (despite European commission regulations requiring the identification of kept Equidae).
Nevertheless, an attempt to estimate how many horses are in the EU has been made in a new report published by the World Horse Welfare and the Eurogroup for Animals. Removing the Blinkers, which aggregates existing studies, gives an average estimate of 6.99m animals, although one source used in the analysis says the population could be as high as 7.74m.
France, with 840,000, has the highest number of horses, followed by the UK, Romania and Greece. It is estimated that one in 10 people in France goes horse-riding.
However, the raw numbers do not reveal the full story. On a per capita basis, Belgium is the clear leader, with 47.8 per 1,000 people living there. Under this metric, Romania and Ireland come in second and third place respectively. Slovakia has the lowest per capita horse population, with around one horse for every 1,000 people, and the Czech Republic comes in second bottom position.
The report also goes into some detail about wild and semi-feral populations across the continent. Famous examples of these include Dartmoor’s ponies and the Camargue horses of southern France. Some of these, including the semi-feral donkeys of Cyprus, were animals that were released by their owners long ago and turned wild.
The report’s figures will probably be subject to some disagreement. The report notes that at the 2014 International Society for Equitation Science Conference it was claimed that Denmark had the highest number of horses per capita. But according to these rankings, the Nordic country comes in
The authors say: “No data has been received from some member states, and varying figures from others. There appears to be no standard method for data collection, and in general there is little information available.”
One case study in the report looks at the decline in equine industries in Ireland in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Over 12,000 thoroughbred foals were registered by stud book authority Weatherby Ireland in 2007, but that dropped to 7,546 in 2012. There was also a rise in the number of horses slaughtered - up from 3,500 in 2008 to over 24,000 in 2012. It dropped to 10,000 in 2013, but the report says that may have been partly as a result of stricter controls following the horse meat scandal.
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