AS the microchipping of horses becomes compulsory, the RSPCA fears it will not be enough to prevent an impending horse welfare catastrophe.

It comes after the charity revealed it dealt with 35 incidents involving horses in Northumberland during the Covid crisis.

As the charity launches its month-long rehoming drive, Adoptober, new figures reveal that nationally the number of horses in its care is already three times what it was at the start of the last rescission in 2009, and said it is braced for huge numbers of abandoned and neglected horses as the country plunges into an even deeper financial downturn.

During the lockdown period, of March 23 to September 8, the RSPCA dealt with 4,479 incidents involving horses - including 35 in the county.

Last year, the charity rehomed 242 horses, but almost 760 remain in the charity’s care in desperate need of a new home.

At the time of the 2009 recession, the RSPCA had 250 horses in its care, but following that down-turn, numbers peaked at nearly 1,200 in 2013.

The RSPCA is anticipating more horses to be abandoned or neglected as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the deepening recession, and is urging people who are looking to take on a horse to think about adopting one from the charity.

And, although the RSPCA welcomes the change in the law to microchipping of all equines mandatory irrespective of age, it warns the move is not enough alone to tackle irresponsible breeders and owners.

Many animal welfare organisations have also seen donations plummet during the pandemic and there is already huge pressure on resources.

Chris Sherwood, chief executive of the RSPCA, said: “Equine charities fear that autumn will create the perfect storm as grazing decreases, the end of furlough and the deepening recession will see more owners struggling with costs of care, leading to neglect and abandonment, yet people have been continuing to breed horses despite Covid.

“Alongside this, equine rescues, already reporting a sharp drop in funds, may start to go under as the financial situation bites.”