DUBLIN (Reuters Life!) - The latest arrivals at a south Dublin animal shelter -- four horses rescued earlier this week -- are little more than skin and bone.
They are the lucky ones.
As the Irish economy heads into a second straight year of severe recession people are cutting back on the luxuries they acquired during the go-go years of the "Celtic Tiger" economy.
Top of the list are pet ponies and horses.
Stables at the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) are at bursting point.
"If you take into account the number of race horses, syndicate horses and horses bought at Smithfield or markets like that, there are around 20,000 that nobody wants," says Jimmy Cahill, general manager at the DSPCA.
"We get offered horses every day from people who don't want to look after them anymore and turn away six or seven a week. We reached our capacity on January 3rd but we still do what we can for the sick and injured."
The society has taken in 54 injured horses so far this year, already more than the total they found new homes for in 2008 and far outstripping the increase in other animals being treated.
The biggest problem lies with horses kept in urban areas, bought by young working class people on back streets close to Dublin's Smithfield horse market for as little as 80 euros ($105.3) or often traded for a playstation or mobile phone.
When the new owners run the horse into the ground, they simply get another.
"People always say it keeps the young fellas out of trouble but you can't use living creatures for that. And it just gets them into more trouble," said the DSPCA's communications manager Orla Aungier.
Inspectors sent to examine horses abused by owners less inclined to let them go must wear stab-proof vests, she added.
The kids may not have as much pocket money to look after the animals either but the economic downturn is having a greater impact on Irish horse racing, said Cahill.
Racecards that were over subscribed as new ownership surged during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom shrunk with syndicate groups unable to afford upkeep costs in an industry where Ireland is a world leader, employing an estimated 16,000 people.
"There was a huge push by Horse Racing Ireland to get people into syndicates to buy horses and have a day out at the races but that was when people had plenty of money," he said.
Having used up all their favors to find homes for horses taken in so far this year, the DSPCA say more work is required at government level, particularly in updating animal welfare laws that are nearly a hundred years old.
"There has to be accountability, traceability and zero tolerance. Just because you want to own a horse, doesn't mean you can," Orla Aungier says.
"Otherwise someone's going to die. It's going to happen," she adds, recalling how a stray horse recently damaged 10 cars at Smithfield. "The day is coming when a child gets trampled on by a stray horse at a market or falls off an unbroken horse."
"Then we'll get action."
Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Paul Casciato