Appleby fairgoers are to be asked what changes, if any, they’d like to see to improve the event for horses.
The annual Gypsy Roma and Traveller gathering, which is the biggest in the UK, takes place next week (Thursday 8th – Monday 12th June) in the Cumbrian town of Appleby-in-Westmorland.
Welfare charities*, who have been supporting the protection and wellbeing of horses at the Fair for over 20 years, are seeking input from as many fairgoers as possible this year to help them develop their work further.
Staff from the collaboration – all members of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) – will be identifiable by armbands reading ‘Everyone has a voice’. They will be having conversations with as broad a range of people as possible to understand what they would like to see over the next five years. Any fairgoers who wish to do so are invited to the NEWC tent on Salt Tip Corner for refreshments and a chat.
Andie McPherson, Campaigns Manager at Redwings and Co-ordinator of the Appleby Horse Fair Equine Welfare Project this year, said: “Over the years welfare improvements have been made with some support from the wider community but the charity-led effort has increasingly received interest from fairgoers offering help and support. We want our work to be informed by the interests and preferences of diverse fairgoers, and this is the next step in our efforts to do this.”
Appleby Horse Fair is centred around the trading of horses and has been in existence for at least 300 years. It is very important to the Gypsy Roma and Traveller community who love them. Around 10,000 people of GRT heritage attend the Fair, as well as around 30,000 other visitors.
Bill Lloyd, Gypsy and Traveller representative to the Multi Agency Strategic Coordination Group (MASCG), which brings together all the relevant organisations to make the Fair safe and enjoyable, said: “Horse welfare is a concern to all parties involved and interested in the Fair, which is above all a celebration of the horse. Veterinary science is constantly developing, and along with the rapid growth of social media and a press which seeks sensational stories, welfare cases are more and more in the public eye. Scientific advance now shows some old myths to be nonsense and reveals some new causes for concern. The wider community is demanding higher standards, and a good reputation can take years to win, but can be lost in 30 seconds.
“The animal welfare charities are at the forefront of improving horse welfare standards, and they are our strongest allies in shaping the public perception of the Fair, by encouraging what is good and discouraging what is bad. A recent detailed survey shows that, while the great majority (81%) of horses owned by Gypsies and Travellers are in prime condition, confirming that the wholesale negative stereotyping of this group is untrue and unjustified, there remains a significant number of horses with welfare problems (mostly hoof care) and a small minority of cases which justify intervention by animal welfare professionals.
“As society becomes more sensitive and better informed about high standards of welfare, the Fair-going community is being asked for their views on what and how improvements could be made. This is a chance to have our say, and I believe that the reputation of the Fair in the wider community can only benefit from this co-operative approach. Please support what the animal welfare charities are trying to achieve by listening to what they have to say, and by sharing with them your opinions about the work they are doing.”
The RSPCA are sending 34 people to this year’s Appleby; Redwings Horse Sanctuary are sending nine; Blue Cross are sending eight; World Horse Welfare are sending eight; Bransby Horses are sending six; The British Horse Society are sending three; The Donkey Sanctuary are sending three and Oak Tree Animals are sending two.
RSPCA officers will be supported by the other charities at the event to help any animals who are sick, injured or whose needs are not being met.
There will be a vet station at Salt Tip Corner where assistance can be sought for any animal that needs it. The vet station will be staffed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 4pm.
Visitors to the Fair are strongly discouraged from bringing their dogs – dogs have needed to be rescued from hot vehicles at 14 of the past 15 events.
RSPCA Chief Inspector Rob Melloy said: “Day trippers should not bring their dogs to the Fair, this is not the place for them. Fairgoers can go to the vet station or approach our officers or those from the other welfare charities attending if they are concerned about an animal at the event, or they can call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.”
The collaboration-run ‘Best at Appleby’ competition – sponsored by the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association and now in its 8th year – will celebrate examples of equine health, happiness, and horsemanship. Since 2015 over 60 awards have been given out. Vets from the charities awarded 16 rosettes over the course of last year’s Fair, with a Vet’s Choice Champion and a People’s Choice Champion – voted for on the Best at Appleby social media pages – being awarded again this year on the Sunday. The competition receives support from Master saddler and harness maker Chris Taylor, Master saddler Laurence Pearman and leading farrier and educator Dean Bland Dip WCF, MAFA who will also be selecting horse-owner partnerships to win. New awards include Previous Winners for those who have impressed again this year and Best Horse Health Advocate for social media that promotes wellness of horses at the Fair. To get involved go to https://www.facebook.com/HappyHealthyHorses/