More than 7,000 horses have been abandoned in the past year in the wake of the economic downturn and the horsemeat scandal.

RESCUE: Actor Jenny Seagrove says she has to turn away some of the horses
RSPCA estimates show a sharp rise in the number of healthy horses left to die as owners cannot afford to keep them and in many cases cannot afford to have them put down either.

Earlier this year a global investigation was launched when horsemeat was discovered in processed beef and thousands of burgers and ready meals were pulled from supermarket shelves.

Overbreeding also has to be brought under control, campaigners say. Prices have plummeted and ponies can change hands for as little as £5 at some markets. A horse can cost up to £100 a week to look after and owners have to find even more for humane ­disposal of healthy animals which can cost up to £1,000.

Actress Jenny Seagrove, who founded the Mane Chance Sanctuary near Guildford, Surrey, two years ago, said: "We are getting phone calls every day from people who are shockingly desperate and we probably turn away 25 horses a week.

"They are all looking for hope and we try to give it to them. It's just so sad because these horses have done nothing. We just cannot take them all."

The charity needs £150,000 a year just to meet running costs for the five permanent staff and 26 horses they already have.

Horses Tinker, Tailor and Soldier were found abandoned in a field next to the A3. All three were so weak they could barely eat or stand. When the trio strayed into part of a field where they could get on to the A3, police seized them and Mane Chance took them in.

Ms Seagrove said: "There is no question that one of them would have collapsed and died within a week. They were skin and bone but when it looked like they could stray into the road and cause an accident, I knew we had to do something.

"Horses get tethered, sometimes with a bucket of water, sometimes not, to the side of the road and we get calls from people who are going past and seeing them getting thinner and thinner and they say can you help?

"We can't take them all in because it would jeopardise what we've got here.

"You can't just take them in and keep taking them in."