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Charity questions army horse deaths

The Ministry of Defence has been urged to show "greater transparency" over how it treats animals in the armed forces after it was disclosed some army animals are put down simply because of their "temperament".

As Steven Spielberg's smash-hit movie War Horse takes the UK by storm, figures showed that 28 army horses were put down in 2011 - 16 more than in 2009. The statistics prompted animal charity HorseWorld to call on the MoD to reassure members of the public who are concerned that ex-army horses may have been put down unnecessarily.

The figures show that while most suffered physical health problems, four horses were destroyed last year due to their "temperament".

As the blockbuster - which shows one horse's amazing journey from a Devon farm to the battlefields in France - raises awareness of the use of horses by the army, there are increasing concerns about why military animals are put down, the charity said.

Of the 28 horses that were euthanased in 2011, ten were put down due to lameness, seven for colic, three for injury, three for neurological reasons, one for malignancy and four due to their temperament. In 2009 12 horses were euthanased - eight due to lameness, one due to injury and three due to their temperament.

Staff at the Bristol-based charity have written to the MoD voicing their concerns that an animal's temperament might not be reason enough to destroy it.

HorseWorld equine welfare director Jerry Watkins said: "Alternatives to euthanasia always need to be properly considered when an animal reaches the end of its working life. We have no reason to believe the MoD is not following correct principles and practices, but the public will want to be assured that in each case every alternative was considered, and will be in future."

Among the animals that HorseWorld has looked after in the past decade is former army horse Mountjoy, who was retired to HorseWorld in 2003. During his military career Mountjoy was the charger of Lieutenant Colonel Crispin Lockhart -now Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry - when he was a squadron leader.

Mountjoy died in 2008 after five years at the centre, including a period where he was rehomed with a horse loaner.

HorseWorld is currently responsible for over 140 horses, ponies and donkeys at its Whitchurch site and for a further 300 who have been successfully rehomed by people who care for them on a loan basis.

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