Animal Aid

Appleby Horse Fair - Time to Call a Halt to this Festival of Animal Abuse

Posted 15 June 2009

Appleby Horse Fair takes place every June and attracts some 30,000 visitors who come to see horses being paraded, raced and bathed, and to get a taste of what they think is a Romany tradition that supposedly dates back to 1685.

The reality of this event is quite different. The Fair made national news in 2007 when one of the horses was drowned in the River Eden – many of the riders seem to regard it as a macho challenge to completely submerge their horse under water. The river, whilst shallow at one side, has a steep ledge about half way across and horses easily lose their footing.

Year on year, RSPCA presence has been mounting. There were 20 officers on hand for the 2009 event – which was staged from 5-7 June – the largest number ever. Yet, given that there are thousands of visitors and the 10,000 travellers present, they cannot record and act in response to all incidents of animal abuse.

Travellers typically arrive at the start of the week and residents reportedly complain of late night noise and horses being abused. Visitors come to the Fair at the weekend to watch the horses being driven into River Eden and being trotted (known as ‘flashing’) up and down Flashing Lane.

Animal Aid filmed at the 2009 Fair. Amongst the incidents captured were:

  • Terrified horses being repeatedly whipped, kicked, yelled-at, pushed and manhandled towards the river
  • Scared horses jumping out of the water and onto the river banks
  • Horses being ridden into the river and repeatedly kicked and shouted-at to move into deeper water
  • Horses thrashing about in the water and nearly drowning whilst having their reins held tightly
  • Horses being ridden into the deep water, and then the riders standing on their backs whilst the horses attempt to swim
  • Children kicking, whipping and shoving a miniature pony into the river

During some of these events, the RSPCA officers were visible and yet did nothing to warn owners that their behaviour was unacceptable or causing animals distress.

By law, all horses must have passports, the purpose of which is to provide the health and ownership details of all equines in the UK. An RSPCA officer told our undercover reporter that checking passports was a matter for Trading Standards and that those officers had their hands full with checking for counterfeit goods.

One horse was destroyed this year following an injury, reportedly incurred while being raced on Flashing Lane.

Action:

Please contact Eden District Council and demand that they ban the horse fair. Tradition is no excuse for animal cruelty.

Kevin Douglas
Chief Executive
Eden District Council
Town Hall
Penrith
Cumbria
CA11 7QF
chief.exec@eden.gov.uk

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