A horse sanctuary in Northern Ireland has warned that equine welfare has reached a crisis point, with thousands of strays being left to fend for themselves.
The Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary in Antrim is at the forefront of dealing with the problem of abandoned horses here.
And across Ireland it has been estimated there has been a 200% rise in the number of horses being mistreated since the recession.
It is believed the animals are now being left to starve to death because their owners can no longer afford to feed them.
Last week three horses were found dead and nearly 40 others were living in appalling conditions in a suspected cruelty case at a farm in Co Antrim.
Animal welfare experts now estimate that up to 20,000 horses are being left to fend for themselves across Ireland.
The animal welfare warning comes ahead of legislation due to be implemented next month which is aimed at preventing unnecessary suffering to any animal.
The new law will allow action to be taken to prevent unnecessary suffering, rather than having to wait until an animal is affected.
Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary is a voluntary organisation with 69 horses in its care, costing the charity more than £150,000 annually.
Janice Watt from the sanctuary warned the situation was reaching crisis point.
“Equine welfare is in crisis in Northern Ireland, but the problem is multi-faceted,” she said.
According to Ms Watt, the main problem is overbreeding.
“People are gathering more than they can afford to feed and these horses are then being abandoned,” she added.
The animal activist believes the current situation is leading to a vicious circle, with abandonment becoming the easy option.
“Slaughter is expensive and horses have to travel to Britain or across the border.
“There is an abattoir that takes horses one day a week, but there is an eight-week waiting list. Therefore, some horses are being starved to death by their owners while waiting for slaughter, as they cannot afford to feed them.”