A horse that had been left tethered in a swollen river for several hours drowned yesterday after attempts to save it proved unsuccessful.

The animal had been led into the River Wear, Bishop Auckland, at around 10am, and left to stand up to its fetlocks in the water. The river then began to swell from the recent heavy rainfall in the area, and the horse panicked.

Onlookers tried to rescue the horse but were unsuccessful in their attempts as it was reportedly thrashing around, which made it difficult to approach.

One of the ropes restraining the animal then became entangled in its legs, and this, combined with exhaustion following hours of struggle, meant that by the time the police were called, at around 3pm, the horse was already dead.

“We have a good idea of who the owner is, but we are looking for witnesses to come forward, so that we can be sure of the facts,” PC Sarah Bainbridge of Bishop Auckland Police told HHO.

“It seems that whoever tied up the horse was attempting to ‘swim’ it either for health or training purposes, and although they did apparently return to check on its progress, this was an entirely reckless thing to do.”

The Bishop Auckland police are appealing for anybody who has any additional information about this incident to contact them on (tel: 01388 603566).