Grand Theft Equine

Spiralling fuel costs and environmental concerns have led to a resurgence of the horse-drawn horse in many towns and cities. Formerly the playthings of the aspiring middle-classes, who dress them up in bows at weekends and ponce around at gymkhanas, the horse is once again becoming a common sight on our roads.

They are cheaper to run than cars, being fed mostly on a diet of leftovers, the occasional sugar lump and their own dung. Four legs - one at each corner for stability - means they have a considerable speed advantage over ducks. And since science has consistently failed to deliver the flying cars and personal jetpacks they've been promising since the fifties, it looks like the horse will set the standard for transport in the future.

But gone is the traditional image of the mangy, fly-blown creature of yesteryear. Today's horses are sleeker, faster and more aerodynamic than their ancestors. There are already a number of colours and models available, from the compact and nippy pony, to the more spacious stallion, which is ideal for larger families. And most of them come with driver's airbag and CD player fitted as standard.


Thinking of buying a second-hand horse?

Beware! Shady dealers will often employ a number of underhand tricks to get you to part with good money for an absolute donkey. Here are five pointers to help you spot the con men.

1. Is the horse a uniform colour? Horses that are piebald should be avoided. Even a slightly different coloured ear could be a sign of a re-spray, which might be hiding serious flaws in the bodywork.

2. Does the animal have a full service record? A complete history of any repairs carried out on the horse is essential to ensure you are getting a top class animal. You don't want to get lumbered with an animal that needs its knees replacing every five hundred miles.

3. How are its teeth? The teeth are a useful tool in determining the age of the horse. Often, unscrupulous dealers will replace the teeth with newer dentures and pass the animal off as a younger model. Look out for loose or badly fitting teeth, as this could be a sign that the horse has been tampered with. A permanent, fixed grin is nearly always a bad sign.

4. Make sure that the registration number matches the number etched behind the left ear. This is such a simple test, but many people neglect to check.

5. Finally, look carefully for any weld marks on the underside of the horse. A common practice is to take two horses that have been written off in accidents, cut away the damaged sections and weld the two good halves together - a so called 'cut and shut'.

 

However, the increasing desirability of the horse has presented a new target for teenage joyriders, and horse theft is now a serious problem in many inner city areas. Sometimes they are stolen to order, in which case it is the larger, deluxe animals that are at risk. But opportunists will target the cheaper models - horses that are easily broken into, left unlocked or gullible enough to be led away on the promise of a carrot.

One young offender explained to us why he does it.

"It's the crack, innit mate. Horses is dark. You wanna look cool, you and the rude boys gotta jack a pony, and tear up the hood before the Babylon come knocking on your gates."

We didn't have a fucking clue what he was talking about, so we asked Sergeant Wilbur Modulator of Manchester Police why young kids found horses so attractive.

"I think it's their sleek, muscular shoulders, their musky smell and their large yet surprisingly pert bottoms. Well, that's why I like them."

Fearing that Sergeant Modulator had misunderstood, we tried to clarify our question by asking him why young kids found stealing horses so attractive.

"Well, for much the same reasons, really," he explained. "And also I think it's their way of rebelling against the establishment. Most of these kids come from deprived homes. Some of them, for instance, don't even have colour TV or an Atari VCS. So when they see a nice new horsey sitting in someone's drive, they feel angry and confused."

And so they steal it.

"And so they steal it," Sergeant Modulator confirms. "As any normal, decent human being would in those circumstances. I feel really sorry for these kids, although I do recognise that they are causing a problem. They will take a horse and tear round the streets doing handbrake turns and wheelies, causing considerable concern to the residents. A lot of the time we are able to recover the animal, although more often than not we find it in a sorry state. Sometimes it's just the saddle that has been slashed. On other occasions we may find it up on bricks with its hooves missing, or in extreme cases it may be just a burnt out skeleton at the side of the road. The trouble is, we simply don't have the resources or the manpower to stop it."

The police may be unable to do anything about the problem, but the good news is that there is something you can do. Leicester-based company Secure-O-Horse is offering a number of security options to prevent your precious nag from falling victim to horse thieves. Currently on offer are a range of alarms, rein-locks and tracking devices - and the company hopes to have a set of fetlock clamps on the market in time for Christmas.

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