The RSPCA is today issuing a stark reminder to the owners of tethered horses, highlighting the welfare risks associated with keeping their animals tethered.

As the House of Commons hosts an adjournment debate on the issue today (20 February) the RSPCA is reminding owners who regularly keep their horses in this way of the risk to their animal's welfare - hoping to safeguard hundreds of horses in the future.

Dr Mark Kennedy, equine welfare expert at the RSPCA, said: "As the biggest animal welfare charity, we are called almost every day by people up and down the country who are concerned about tethered horses, some of which have suffered horrible injuries after becoming tangled up in their tethers. In fact, last year (2018) we received more than 5,000 complaints about tethered horses.

"It's a very difficult situation for us as a welfare charity, because at the moment tethering is not illegal in itself, so often our officers are unable to take action unless a vet can confirm the horse is suffering.

"Sometimes just being tethered, though it poses a lot of risk, isn't causing suffering at the time we visit, so often our hands are tied.

"But sadly, we also see many severe cases where tethering has caused a horse to suffer severely, such as Raspy, a tethered pony found in Sunderland last summer with his head collar embedded into his skin, causing a painful wound (pictured below.) We have also seen cases where the horse's legs have become tangled up in the chain or rope and they are unable to move at all. All of these are reasons why we believe tethering poses significant risk to welfare and is therefore an inappropriate way to keep horses.

Tethering horses is not illegal in the UK, but welfare charities like the RSPCA have great concerns.

Dr Kennedy added: "For the welfare needs of a tethered horse to be met, they would have to be very carefully and regularly monitored, safely tethered with properly designed and fitted equipment, given appropriate shelter, feed and water, along with regular and lengthy periods of free-roaming without the tether, but sadly, this rarely happens.

"Tethered horses are not only at risk of becoming injured themselves, they also pose a serious risk to the public, especially when they are left close to busy roads and roundabouts where if they were to become loose, they could cause road accidents.

"We would be interested in considering any approaches to address this problem. While the introduction of stricter measures such as a maximum time period on the tether may be a way forward, the impact of this and other potential legislation on the ongoing horse crisis of neglected, abandoned and fly-grazed equines is unknown. For example, if tethering were to be banned outright, this could lead to problems elsewhere, such as increased fly-grazing and abandonment, so we believe that careful thought and consideration is needed to identify the best way forward.

Whether or not a change in the law occurs, the key issue is enforcement of existing animal welfare legislation, so we believe that appropriate resources must be made available to the main enforcement bodies to ensure they can properly enforce existing legislation.

In the meantime, we hope to continue educating and working with horse owners to discourage tethering and promote more suitable, welfare-friendly ways of keeping horses."

The RSPCA currently has more than 1,000 horses of all ages, breeds and sizes in its care needing new homes. If you can help by offering a home to a rescue horse, please visit www.rspca.org.uk/homesforhorses for more information and to find your perfect match.