The UK’s only charity dedicated solely to looking after working horses has been placed in jeopardy – along with the animals it looks after – having been told it will have to leave its Eridge stables next year.
Volunteers at The Working Horse Trust, based on the Marquess of Abergavenny’s Estate, fear that unless a new home for their 11 horses can be found, some of the animals might have to be put down.
Jo Ambrose, who founded the charity 22 years ago at its present site, said it has been on notice to leave for the past three years, although it has proved impossible so far to find a new home.
“To be fair to the Eridge Estate, they have been very flexible, but they have never given us a clear reason why they want us to go. It is a commercial decision and there is not much we can do about it.
“It has been very disruptive not knowing if we are coming or going.”
She said that after several extensions, and failed attempts to renegotiate by offering to pay more money for the stables and fields, they have been given their final notice to quit. They have until September next year to move out.
However, Mrs Ambrose warned that in reality they have half this time.
“We will need to make a decision by March as it’s not possible to leave it until the deadline to find new homes for the horses,” she said. “We are a small charity and we rely entirely on volunteers, most of whom are based nearby, and many will not want to travel too far away so a new site needs to be within the area.”
Part of the problem has been the disappearance of suitably-sized barns to house the horses – the current premises covers 560 sq m with around 30 acres of grazing land.
“The relaxing of planning laws mean many farmers are opting to develop or sell their formerly unused farm buildings. They can get a lot more money doing that than from what we can give them in rent,” Mrs Ambrose explained.
The Marquess of Abergavenny is a former patron of the charity, a position he stood down from when the current conflict of interest began.
Although Mrs Ambrose doesn’t believe many of the horses will end up being put down, they might be left with little choice when it comes to those deemed unfit to be rehomed.
“We don’t even want to think about the consequences, but in exceptional circumstances we might have to [put them down]. It’s quite devastating.”
The charity sees its role as safeguarding the future of heavy working horse breeds such as Shires, Suffolks and Ardennes.
They’re used for, amongst other things, ploughing, hauling timber and pulling carriages.
Pictured are Poppy a 22-year-old Ardennes mare and the first to be born at Eridge and Celandine, a Suffolk mare aged 19, and the ‘rarest of the rare breeds’.
The Nevill Estate did not respond to a request for comment.