Equine welfare charities have warned that the UK faces a horse welfare catastrophe this winter, as Covid-19 restrictions and its effect on the economy continues.

Between the start of lockdown in March and September, 5,444 equine incidents were responded to by the RSPCA across England and Wales.

In a survey by the National Equine Welfare Council, equine rescues reported a drop of more than 50% in donations.

Consequently, the majority are reporting they only have enough funds to exist for another six months.

“We fear equine rescues may go under as the financial situation bites, and increase the burden on the RSPCA,” said the RSPCA’s chief executive Chris Sherwood.

Dr Mark Kennedy, equine welfare expert for the charity said rehoming was holding up well, but the organisation was very concerned about the impact of the financial consequences of the pandemic on both owners and equine rescue organisations.

“Sadly we anticipate a perfect storm where many more horses fall into situations of neglect and suffering over the coming months at the same time as their own finite resources are ever more stretched,” he said.

Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, was also “gravely concerned” about the impact of the pandemic on equine welfare this winter and beyond.

“The true financial consequences of the recession are playing out before us and that will place significant additional strain on horse owners,” he said.

“The key message is for owners who are struggling to seek advice before problems spiral out of control.

“We urge them to contact charities, such as World Horse Welfare, as we are able to offer advice on cutting costs without compromising equine welfare.”

Blue Cross’ Home Direct service provides horses with a new home straight from their current one, taking pressure off charities.

“We understand the struggles owners maybe going through as the pandemic continues,” said Vicki Alford, rehoming centre manager at Blue Cross, Burford. “We encourage them to approach us while their horses are still healthy.”