I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate on the practice of the long-term tethering of horses. Tethering is the practice of attaching horses to a stake in the ground using a collar, or sometimes just a piece of rope around the neck, that is then fastened to a chain. The animal that once defined our great nation is now being left at risk of neglect, cruelty and abuse because of loopholes in the very legislation that was written to protect them. This debate follows the Break the Chain campaign run by the excellent HorseWorld trust, a leading equine rescue charity in the south-west, just next door to my constituency. The Break the Chain campaign aims to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to include restrictions on the tethering of horses.
Traditionally, tethering has been used as a short-term method of keeping horses, but it has transformed into a method of retaining horses without having to purchase land, by using public or private grassland, often by the side of busy roads, for grazing. Because the tethered animal can be moved quickly, it is easy for people to tether a horse on land that does not belong to them and then move the animal before the authorities can identify the landowner or the owner of the animal. This results in it being virtually impossible to monitor the welfare of these animals, leaving around 3,500 horses in a state of potentially compromised welfare with little or no chance of intervention from charities.
There are a number of reasons why there has been such a large public response to the public campaign. In my constituency and the constituencies that surround it in the west of England, there is a big problem with tethering. There have been incidents where horses tethered by the roadside have been visible from the council offices in Yate, but despite this being a clear breach of the Animal Welfare Act, it could not be acted upon because the law does not state explicitly that tethering is a welfare concern. Unfortunately, because these horses are not protected by law, most cases of tethered horses that HorseWorld gets called to do not end well. The horses are simply moved before the Control of Horses Act 2015 can take effect. One incident saw a tethered horse break free near a large shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway in south Gloucestershire, next to a major road. By the time the horse was rescued and able to be seen by a vet, the injuries that it had sustained, most likely from having been hit by a car, meant that it had to be put down.