It’s no surprise that the mistreatment of horses has been an issue in Limerick for quite some time. It has been reported that Limerick city and council spend “more on dealing with the problem of stray horses than any other local authority” with €613,000 to be spent on seizing and destroying horses this year alone. That is the equivalent of spending €3.20 per person per year on horses. As you can imagine, if this much is being spent on horses, it is very common to see abused horses in everyday life.
In Limericks residential areas, horses are often left to die in the middle of housing estates after owners have “ridden them into the ground”. One man who lives in one of these housing estates explained how one horse was “tied up near a pylon on the green and just left to die. The crows have already started to peck at the poor animal”. He continued to say, “These fellas don’t care about the animals. Once they are finished with them, they just leave them to rot”. I see it myself every time I go into the city. Just the other week I was on my way home from college and a terrified horse was running alongside the bus. The entire bus erupted in laughter as the horse ran through traffic, not knowing where to go obviously having escaped from wherever it was being kept. The next day I was in that area and I saw the same horse dead on the side of the road. If you have no interest in looking after a horse properly, then don’t get one in the first place.
Of course, many people who own horses in Limerick city are doing so illegally as they must own a horse license and have the horse microchipped and many do not. Also if you own a horse, it must be accompanied at all times when outside of the house. However, they are usually left to wander around whatever housing estate they are in if they’re not already tied up in a random field, outside of the owner’s property. As well as this, “if your horse has been found wandering three times within a 12 month period, it can be seized and you will not get your animal back”. These laws seem to be rarely enforced in Limerick city. I have seen the Gardaí being called to scenes where horses have been neglected or have been wandering into other people’s houses and yet the most the owners get is a warning and very rarely is a horse taken away.
Many people who regularly see these horses being neglected and abused think that it is awful and it really is. One man said that this whole situation is, “very cruel and the guards and the council aren’t doing anything about it”. Willie O’Dea added, “This wanton cruelty towards helpless animals says a lot about the mentality of the people who do this”. While it’s great that the people of Limerick recognise this cruelty and look down upon it, they seem to greatly support it in other ways. Do people only care about how horses are treated when it’s in their housing estates? What about when it’s only down the road at the horse racing track? No one seems to have much of a problem with horses being abused then.
Horse racing has always been a very popular sport in Limerick, as you can see from this video from 1940, with its own racecourse now situated in Patrickswell that opened in 2001. More recently, this past month the 10th annual Student Race Day took place there. It always proves to be very popular with the official attendance this year being 13,821. I’m sure that most people who attended weren’t there for the actual racing. However, simply by attending, those thirteen-thousand people still supported and gave their money to this horrible ‘sport’.
In this €1 billion industry, thousands of horses are bred for racing. Yet only between 5% and 10% actually make it to the race track, no prizes for guessing what happens to the rest of them. Many Qatari companies and wealthy men have begun to buy even more land recently throughout Co. Limerick for the purpose of horse breeding, in places like Croom and Knocklong.
However, one of the bigger problems in Irish horse racing is the use of drugs. Horses are often given drugs to keep on racing when they shouldn’t be and they soon become addicted. In 2012, John Hughes (no, not the guy who made The Breakfast Club) was found in possession of “6kg of the powerful anabolic steroid Nitrotain” *. John Hughes was the state veterinary inspector and he was employed by the Department of Agriculture. He was employed between 2002 and 2012 and during that time he illegally imported 250kg of steroids. That’s enough for 62,000 doses. He is now only banned for five years.
John Hughes is not the only man that has been caught in the middle of a horse drugging scandal in Ireland. Sheikh Mohammad is the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates but he also owns two stud farms in Ireland, one in Co. Meath and one in Co. Kildare. In 2013, eleven of Sheikh Mohammad’s horses were found to have been pumped full of illegal steroids. The man who was found to have drugged these animals admitted to drugging four more horses and was banned for eight years. That is a very small price to pay for causing that amount of damage to that many animals.
Horse racing can be an acceptable sport but I could never support it the way it is now. Many people in other sports choose to take performance enhancing drugs themselves, however, horses do not have that choice and can be pumped full of them whether they like it or not. I’m fully aware that not everyone in Limerick treats horses badly or supports horse racing. I know that because I am one of them and so are the people at Limerick Animal Welfare who take care of many abandoned horses in Limerick. At Limerick Animal Welfare, just €3 can provide a bale of hay for an abandoned horse. If you are at all interested, you can donate here.