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Last Updated: Wednesday October 29 2008 17:37 GMT

Maddy looks into a threat to pet horses

Maddy and a horse

Hundreds of horses and ponies are at risk of becoming homeless, because people can't afford to keep them anymore.

With food prices and bills going up, horse owners are leaving their animals at rescue centres to be looked after.

If the problem gets a lot worse, some horses may even have to put down. Maddy went to visit a rescue centre in Essex.

"We arrived to see the rescue centre team hard at work. They have to sweep the muddy yard, muck out the stables, as well as walk at feed the horses. But over the last few weeks their job has become even tougher.

That's because more people are bringing their animals in because they can't afford to keep them any more. So there's much more work to do!

Bills are going up

Horses are really expensive to look after - it costs up to 5,000 a year to pay for them to stay in stables and give them enough to eat. So most people never get the chance to own one.

Sara Ross, The Horse Refuge
Sara Ross works at The Horse Refuge
And at the moment even people with lots of money are struggling to afford it because of the cash crisis. The cost of our food and bills has gone up. And the cost of horse food and vet bills is also rising!

So, the centre is filling up with extra horses. It's got so packed, the people who run it are trying to move to another bigger site. Five children are volunteering at the centre this week because it's half-term, and everyone is exhausted!

The advice is, taking animals to rescue centres is a good idea, but only if you really don't have any other options. It's definitely much better than leaving horses to starve, or abandoning them. It sounds cruel but it does sometimes happen.

Georgia, Zac and Jack
Georgia, Zac, Jack are all volunteers at the horse refuge
But the tip from horse charities is to try and save enough money so you can and keep your horse at home.

The big worry is that if people keep buying horses that they can't afford, then too many people will end up taking them to rescue centres and there won't be enough space. Some charities have admitted that could mean some horses have to be put down.

So if you are dreaming about getting a horse for Christmas think very carefully about whether your family has enough money. The cash crisis could get worse before it gets better so don't be surprised if your parents say no."