Weather, Economy Cause Tough Times for English Horse Owners

Floods and droughts, spring snowstorms and cold fronts. In England, the weather recently has been nothing short of catastrophic for farmers across the country, and horse farmers are no exception. With the lingering effects of the suffering economy, times are unquestionably tough.

“It is hard to actually put into words how frustrating the situation is now, after having invested thousands of pounds in my mares,” said warmblood breeder Ruth Warrington, owner of Rhos Farm Warmbloods in Devon. “In the past five years I have seen a marked decline in the market for elite foals in the U.K., while there have been major rises in costs for straw, hay, and feed.”

As many as 90% of all the U.K.’s agricultural businesses have been affected by the recent weather problems alone, according to a report in England’s The Guardian. Problems started with 2012 being the second wettest year on record and that has coincided with various livestock diseases, some of which have caused birth defects.

Richard Matson, senior partner of Twemlows Stud Farm in Shropshire, said that he’s had to deal, ironically, with the driest April in years—only half an inch of rain as opposed to the expected two and a half inches—and has had to keep horses indoors and on haylage an extra month this year.

“Our feeding costs have gone up about 15% due to the lost months at pasture,” Matson said. Using their stored haylage supply during months that horses should be at pasture also will cut into next winter’s storage, he said; meanwhile the grass isn’t growing well enough to create as much new haylage in the coming year, he added. Even so, in his case he still has enough food for the horses.

“They have what they need to eat,” he said. “It’s just costing us more.”

He has fewer mares coming in for breeding services, however, Matson said.

“Some of it’s due to the weather, as owners are saying their mares still aren’t cycling yet this year,” he said. “But some of it’s the economy, too, as we’ve seen dropping numbers of mares since 2011, which was before the weather problems.”

Even so, he said there’s still a strong market for high-level competition horses in the U.K.

“The Olympics were really helpful for that,” he said.

Despite these challenges, the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has not provided horse farmers with government assistance as it has with other livestock farmers. Some breeders, like Warrington, take on other jobs to help pay for the increased costs of maintaining their farms. And while some find the government’s lack of funding unfair, others consider it reasonable.

“Why should they (subsidize)?” Matson said. “The government is not a charity.”

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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