The Horse Trust: The Oldest Charity in the World
2021 is a landmark year for The Horse Trust as we are celebrating our 135th anniversary. As the world’s oldest equine charity, we have evolved almost continually since our founding in 1886. Despite the changes along the way, our ethos and values have remained almost unchanged… we continue to provide retirement and sanctuary to horses in need across the country, and this will never change.
Inspired by Black Beauty
Our founder, Miss Ann Lindo, was so touched by Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel, Black Beauty, that she funnelled her inspiration into creating The Horse Trust. Initially, the charities aim was to provide a temporary retreat for ill and exhausted London cab horses, who would be nursed back to health with the Trust’s medicine of choice – wide open fields and a good rest! The Horse Trust understood the plight of the working poor, so would offer a fresh horse to any labourer bringing in a horse for respite.
This inventive arrangement made all the difference, as many owners loved their horses dearly but simply couldn’t afford the time off work that would be required to give the horse a proper break. Our charity still operates with this core ethos of acceptance and refusing to judge owners who come to us for help.
Finding the perfect home
Over the last century, The Home of Rest has had several homes itself. From humble beginnings at a stable yard in Sudbury, we expanded to Acton (West London) in 1889, before settling at Cricklewood for 25 years. The fact that Cricklewood had 20 acres of open pasture and was located just a stone’s throw from Marble Arch really shows how much London has changed since then! In 1933, the rapid expansion and urbanisation of London forced The Horse Trust to relocate to Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, then lastly we settled at Speen Farm in Buckinghamshire, where we have stayed ever since.
The charity was tested and stretched further than ever before during the First World War. With thousands of the UK’s horses being drafted for military service, The Horse Trust stepped up to provide a huge innovation in equine care and transport – the world’s first-ever motorised horse ambulance! This invention allowed countless injured horses to be rescued from remote battlefields and taken off for urgent veterinary treatment. In just two years, the horse ambulance aided over 1,000 horses, travelling in excess of 13,000 miles in the process. Without this ambulance, it is likely that the vast majority of horses would have had to be put to sleep without the means to get them to a vet’s clinic, even though many of their injuries were perfectly treatable.
After the war, and following the growing popularity of cars, The Trust saw their clientele largely change from cabmen’s horses to tradesmen’s ponies, changing again to ex-police and ex-military horses in more recent times. At times, we have also taken in abandoned or abused horses in dire need of help. In 2008, on a cold January night, we were called upon to take in 14 of the sickest horses, ponies and donkeys from the infamous Spindles Farm in Amersham. Over 100 equines were found barely alive, crammed in foul, stinking stables, tethered so closely together they could hardly move and standing on the carcasses of those that had succumbed to starvation. With the outpouring of support from the public and the dedication and commitment of the team at the sanctuary, today these horses now have a secure, healthy and happy future.
Star rescued from Spindles Farm in 2008 – emaciated with little hope at life.
Star after years of care and rehabilitation pulling the wedding carriage in 2018
Throughout this evolution, the focus of our charity now extends beyond just providing a safe haven for working horses. Research funded by the charity has led to significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of various equine ailments. Examples include a new vaccine for Strangles, a highly contagious respiratory tract infection; a breakthrough in sarcoid treatment by silencing the gene in the virus that causes these tumours; new methods of assessing the respiratory health of horses and an innovative test to screen for drug-resistant worms.
Investing in the future
The Trust has invested over £20 million in a wide variety of projects to benefit the health and welfare of horses. These huge advances in medical research have given veterinarians today a far greater understanding of the many diseases and ailments that affect the horse family. Research projects, of the highest scientific standards, advance our knowledge of treatment, the optimal care of equines and the prevention of disease and suffering. Clinical training scholarships in pathology, surgery, internal medicine, epidemiology and anaesthesia and clinical awards which provide specialist training in equine clinical subjects help speed the understanding of some of the most important equine diseases.
The Horse Trust also serves to improve the lives of equines by educating both the public and professionals alike. Working alongside BARTA (British Animal Rescue and Trauma care Association), we provide emergency response training to police officers, emergency responders and Highways England staff. This involves learning horse handling skills, such as how to approach and catch a horse, how to scan a microchip, how to lead and tie up a horse in a place of safety and how to rescue a downed horse.
We provide a place of retreat for horses that have suffered and are in need of special treatment and is a dignified resting place for working horses that have given a lifetime of service to their country and mankind nurturing them throughout their final years. This has not changed in our history and will still be true today and tomorrow.
Polly – on arrival in 2016 she was the thinnest horse we have ever seen
Polly in 2019 – a happy healthy horse with a lust for life
We rely 100% on public donations to support our work. If you would like to learn more about The Horse Trust and ways you can support our vital work, please visit www.horsetrust.org.uk