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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 23:45 GMT
Top vets examine 'cruelty' claims
Clydesdale horse
Guidelines are being produced
Animal experts are to examine claims of cruelty towards Clydesdale horses.

Fears about a method of shoeing the horses called "couping" have been raised by John Robins of the pressure group Animal Concern.

He has written to all MSPs asking them to support a parliamentary motion by Labour MSP Dr Sylvia Jackson.

It describes the practice as "barbaric mutilation" and urges the Scottish Executive to ensure that proper standards are maintained.

These painful conditions can cripple horses and shorten their life span

John Robins
Animal Concern
But the Clydesdale Horse Society has dismissed the claims as "a lot of smoke and no fire".

Now the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has decided to bring together the country's top equine vets to discuss the issue.

"We are trying to get an informed view on this," said SSPCA spokeswoman Doreen Graham.

"We are going to bring together some of the top equine vets to see if couping is causing the animal suffering.

"If there is suffering we will lobby for something to be done about that."

Action demanded

She said that if Thursday's meeting showed there was an animal welfare problem the SSPCA would push for changes to the legislation.

The demand for action came from Mr Robins in advance of the Scottish National Winter Fair in Perth on Wednesday.

The organisers of the fair stressed that the Clydesdale Horse Society set its own rules for the event.

However, they have written to the exhibitors advising them that it was likely veterinary inspections would be carried out.

There is no way the society would condone any practice that was considered to be cruel or inappropriate

Kate Stevens, Clydesdale Horse Society
Animal Concern started its campaign against couping for show purposes after a registered farrier - who makes and fits horse shoes - alerted the group to the practice several months ago.

Mr Robins said it involved fitting distorted shoes to horses, including young foals, in an effort to make them hold their feet close together.

He claimed: "It would be better compared to the foot binding inflicted on Japanese women in previous centuries.

"It causes hooves to crack and bleed, joints to swell and stress. These painful conditions can cripple horses and shorten their life span."

'Lot of smoke'

He said he wanted the SSPCA to go in and start prosecuting people if they found evidence of the practice.

However, Clydesdale Horse Society secretary Kate Stevens said there was "a lot of smoke and no fire" in Mr Robins' claims.

"There is no way the society would condone any practice that was considered to be cruel or inappropriate," she said.

She disputed claims that the way horses were shod could make them lame, saying: "A lame horse is not going to win in the show ring, ergo it would be counter-productive."

No complaints

And Mrs Stevens said the horses were born standing with their hind legs close together.

"They are born with the stance he is criticising."

She added that vets attended the society's shows throughout the summer and had not brought forward any complaints about lame horses.

However, she added that the production of guidelines was now under active consideration by the society.

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