THE number of horses and ponies rescued in Lancashire has rocketed over the past five years, new figures have revealed.

Falling horse prices combined with rising feed and care costs have caused the number of animals being abandoned or becoming victims of cruelty to rise 175 per cent from 2009 to 2013, the RSPCA said.

In 2009, 16 horses, ponies and donkeys were rescued, compared to 44 last year. The number of complaints also increased by 12 per cent in the same period.

Oswaldtwistle sanctuary Only Foals and Horses is so full it has had to stop taking in unwanted horses and ponies.

Volunteer Nikita Taylor, 27, said: “We have 95 horses, which is more than we can manage. People are ringing all the time.

“Some say if we don’t take them, they’ll be going to horse meat which is devastating to hear but we just can’t take anymore.

“It’s down to the cost of looking after the horses. People don’t look into how much it all costs. It adds up just for one horse, never mind 95. People are just giving them away.”

Nikita said the sanctuary hopes to reduce its numbers to 70, although she said horses and ponies there won’t be put down unnecessarily.

She added: “We are short staffed so it’s tough. We are working hard to muck out and get the horses out in the field.

“They can’t all go out at once because we don’t have enough land.”

The shock statistics have prompted an RSPCA campaign to find homes for the abused, neglected and abandoned animals.

RSPCA chief inspector Cathy Hyde, who heads a specialist team of equine officers, said: “Over the past five years, there has been a marked and very worrying increase in equine neglect and abuse.

“This is witnessed on a daily basis by frontline staff.

“In 2009, we were removing on average two horses a day. What is most shocking is that we are now removing on average five horses a day. ”