Our story

It is hard for us to imagine or remember now, but just over a hundred years ago horses were a part of everyday life on our streets, farms and canals. No one then could have thought of a life without them. Working horses were strong and reliable, they were part of the country’s industry and were essential to distribution of goods, transport and farming.

It is equally hard to remember the sound of a town, such as Bristol, before the background roar of the motor car – to a time when the sound of horses hooves clattering along the street, and time was tolled out by the great bells of the church. 

After the First World War the use of horses began to decline. Ironically, The Second World War extended the use of working horses as several million were used in battle and to supply the lines of troops on the Western Front.

However, by 1950 the end was in sight. In Bristol, horses were still being used by the Western Region of the newly nationalized British Rail, by the Bristol Corporation. On the other hand, local coal merchants, milkmen, and greengrocers still used horses on their delivery rounds and their horses were recognized and loved by their customers.

In Bristol, the railways were the single biggest users of horses, and the GWR had an extensive distribution network for the passengers and freight it carried. At its peak in 1913 the railway had 30,000 horses in Great Britain, but by 1945 this number had fallen to 9,000. Several years later, the railway announced that they were going to convert entirely to motorised transport and close all the stables.

HorseWorld’s founder, Mabel Cocksedge was a young woman who worked for the railway at Bristol Temple meads. She would have spoken to the carters each day and she shared their concerns about what would happen to the horses when the stables closed. It was likely that many would be sold for horse meat. It was amidst this setting that The Friends of Bristol Horses Society was born, later to become HorseWorld. 

Mabel and her like-minded friends, Alderman Knight and Reverend Ian Murdoch were appalled at the fate that beheld these faithful old servants and so they founded the Friends of Bristol Horses Society. They successfully campaigned to raise awareness and funds to rescue working horses from slaughter and give them a long, happy retirement and steadily the charity grew.

A year later, two very important ladies joined the charity after seeing a picture of a horse the society had rescued in a local paper. Their names were Marjorie Pelling and Madge Checkley, and between them they ran the charity for 45 years.

In 1960, the Reverend Ian Murdoch, one of the society’s founders sold his half of Staunton Manor Farm to the society. He was moving to Canada and offered to sell his share of the farm to the society for the sum of £2,500 – which was significantly less than its market value. At that time, the other half of the farm was owned by a garden tools company.

This represented a huge step forward for us, as previously horses had been homed on odd pieces of land owned by members and supporters. 

In just three months, this derelict property was fit and ready to receive horses, and Marjorie and Madge moved into the farmhouse. In 1960 the farm was officially opened by Lady Cadbury.

However, in the late 60’s the 11 acres at Staunton Manor was too getting too small and the society had the chance to buy the farm next door, Keynes Farm where the charity is based to this day.

In 2000, Staunton Manor Farm opened as HorseWorld Visitor Centre. It remained open for 14 years but sadly, the running costs and ever-increasing cost of maintaining the Grade 2 listed buildings became a drain on the charities resources so the Visitor Centre sadly closed in 2014. Visitors can now visit Keynes Farm next door on set Open Days which appear on the events page of the website. 

So what does HorseWorld do now?

Although there are fewer working horses today, the need for our services has never been greater. Record numbers of horses are being abandoned on waste ground, cruelly treated or neglected. We work with organizations such as the RSPCA, and the police to rescue these poor animals who would otherwise face a bleak future. 

Whereas in the early years of the charity, the horses were mainly older animals, ready for retirement. Nowadays, they can be any age and some are even born at HorseWorld if we rescue pregnant mares. This meant that sanctuary space was running out so in the year 2000 we started rehoming horses on a loan scheme. 

Thanks to this approach we are able to care for many more horses than ever before. Rescued horses go through a tailored rehabilitation and training process to prepare them for their lives ahead to give each horse the time it needs to regain health and confidence before it goes on to start a new life. 

This may be in a loan home or they may become one of the HorseWorld Discovery Team members. Our Discovery Courses boost the confidence, emotional well-being and life-chances of disadvantaged and vulnerable young people through an innovative learning programme that brings them together with our gentle rescued horses.

You can read more about HorseWorld Discovery Courses in the Discovery section of this website.

Our Rescue and Rehabilitation programme

For almost 70 years, HorseWorld have been providing a rescue operation to save horses from neglect and abuse in the local area. We are fortunate to have a wonderful site of almost 180 acres, just south of Bristol in the North Somerset area. We take pride in sustainably managing our land to maximise the productivity of our fields and maintaining appropriate levels of biodiversity, whilst providing a peaceful and safe environment for our rescued herd.  Protection of nature is one of our charitable objects.

At HorseWorld we strongly believe in the benefits of working together with others to achieve a greater impact. This is particularly important in our rescue work where, in addition to working with the police and local authorities, we provide support to other charities such as the RSPCA and Redwings to enable rescues in our region where horses were suffering from neglect or abuse. 

Once rescued horses arrive at our farm, they receive dedicated care in our isolation unit, undergoing a variety of admission tests to ensure they are free from any infectious diseases, before they are integrated into our herd. Our rescue policy sets up 6 criteria which could lead to our intervention:

      • welfare seizures, supported by police/RSPCA, may include “case” horses (prosecution).
      • abandonment, in compliance with notices displayed.
      • owner death, terminal illness, or mental health concerns to prevent potential welfare issues.
      • economic, to prevent future welfare issues.
      • enablers, support to other charities by taking “non-case” rescues.
      • other, such as loans for Discovery but limited to no more than 5% of our herd on site.

In 2022 we agreed to include reference to horse owners with mental health issues in our rescue criteria above, as we have seen an increase in requests from this category. We will always aim to support an owner to keep their horse if we can be confident the equine’s welfare is not negatively impacted.

In addition to working closely with local authorities, other charities, and the police to ensure any rescue is in accordance with the law and the welfare risks to horses involved are minimised, we also support the fire & rescue services with the provision of a specialist environment for their teams to train in the handling of equines. In an emergency rescue where an equine is involved, it is essential all parties have the sufficient skills to be able to approach an injured and probably terrified horse. 

Throughout the year we receive numerous calls for help, advice and guidance. Many are reporting welfare concerns or horse-owners seeking a long-term home for their own equines when they can no longer provide the appropriate care. Our aim is to try to ensure horses remain with their owners, however this is not always possible.

Once a horse arrives at HorseWorld and is clear from our isolation procedures, it will then be appraised, and a tailored rehabilitation programme will be established. Working together with our grooms, our Head of Welfare and her team will undertake a risk assessment of each horse, and it will be assigned to a member of staff depending on its needs. We utilise the services of equine professionals such as the farrier, dentist and chiropractor to support the ongoing care and rehabilitation of our horses.

It is our aim to ensure that each horse can lead a happy life with good welfare. For some horses, this could mean they are retrained for our Discovery programme, for others, they may be better suited to a new home where they can enjoy the care of a loving family alongside other equine friends.

We are an active member of the National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) whose overall aim is to improve equine welfare, support those invested in improving equine welfare standards, and communicate best practice to NEWC members and the wider equine community. 

See our horses here

Our Rehoming programme

For many years, HorseWorld have been working with local horse lovers to provide loan homes for our many rescued equines. There are about 200 horses and ponies in loan homes, usually within a 90-minute drive of our centre, to enable us to remain in physical contact with our loaners. Each year we receive around 200 applications, either via our website, through an email or a telephone call. If we have a suitable horse available for their needs, we will invite the applicant to meet the horse and we will also undertake a home visit.

We take great care to ensure our horses and ponies are placed in the care of people committed to giving them a home for life, however sadly there are always some who are returned. We will always accept a loan horse back into the HorseWorld herd and although in the past, we have agreed to sign over a loan horse after 5 years, our policy was changed in 2022. In future all horses and ponies will remain in our ownership for the rest of their lives – once a HorseWorld horse, always a HorseWorld horse.

See the Horses available for rehoming here!

Our Discovery programme

The HorseWorld Discovery programme was established in 2007 to meet the local need of young people struggling in mainstream education. Discovery boosts the confidence, emotional well-being and life-chances of disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and adults through an innovative learning programme that brings them together with gentle rescued horses. This learning programme has seen positive results when nothing else has worked for the individual or group.

We are a registered part time alternative learning provider and work closely with Bristol City Council and particularly their Families in Focus group which meets every 6-weeks. We are also working with other local authorities and agencies such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Social Services and other charitable organisations that work with vulnerable young people.

Every year Discovery works with over 250 children, young people and adults who are at risk of exclusion or who are experiencing life challenges due to their social, emotional, mental health and learning needs.  Attendance on our programme can help young people to:

  • Better manage their lives.
  • Develop positive relationships.
  • Learn problem-solving techniques.
  • Develop communication and social skills.

Through a variety of carefully designed activities with the horses and nature, we support young people to realise what they can achieve in the right environment. The horses, which have been specially chosen for their calm nature, also bring about calmness in the young people, helping them to concentrate, communicate effectively and engage in their learning, all of which has a positive impact back in the classroom and at home. 

Discovery provides a safe, supervised, hands-on, learner-centred curriculum of activities. Our trained facilitators ensure that all learning is carefully structured and begins with ‘doing’. In our 6-week programme, each successive week builds on the skills learned in the previous week, at a pace suited to the individual learner. This allows for reflection on, and development of, skills over the duration of the course.

We are a Federation member of The Federation of Horses in Education and Therapy (HETI). In 2022, we secured membership of the Human Equine Interaction Register (HEIR) which was established by HETI in UK. The Register aims to bring together all people involved in the field of human equine interactions to ensure high quality service provision and create a greater awareness of their work.

Learn more about HorseWorld Discovery here