According to the Highveld Horse Care Unit, the rural areas around Upington, Ladybrand and other towns bordering on Lesotho in the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State have very high instances of stock theft, with horses being as much at risk as other livestock in terms of the numbers stolen each year.
Hundreds of horses are lost to theft every year, few are ever recovered, and the thieves are rarely caught or brought to trial.
There are several things owners and stable and farm managers can do to reduce the risk of horse theft. Firstly, every horse should be identified with a microchip, freeze-marked identification, lip tattoo or even hot brand. Such identification can be the difference between retrieving a horse and having to leave him behind. Visible or electronic identification is particularly important because most stolen horses can drastically change in appearance within a very short time.
Horses kept in urban areas near townships where donkeys and horses are still used for transport should never be left unattended during the day where secure electric fencing or solid walls do not surround the camp or paddock. While logistically difficult, horses running in large camps should be gathered into one area with a night guard to watch and call for help if thieves appear. During daylight hours the horse equivalent of a shepherd is often enough to prevent horse theft.
Precautionary measures and visible markings are the only deterrents for horse thieves and may not be enough. Responsible owners must recognise the fact that despite all efforts, an occasional horse may be lost with little hope of successful recovery.
Text: Deborah-Ann Buchan. Photography: Shutterstock
The full article appears in the March 2015 issue (97) of HQ.