A point-to-point trainer and a horse owner from South Wales have both been cleared of cruelty after a pony fractured its skull and had to be put down at the Badminton sponsored ride in September 2003.

Fanta, a 14hh part-bred Arab bay mare, had completed the sponsored ride on the Duke of Beaufort’s Gloucestershire Estate with her owner, Laura Ashelford, 26, when she refused to load into the horse box to travel home.

While Miss Ashelford and the trainer Robert Rowsell were trying unsuccessfully to load the mare she reared up and fell, hitting her head on the horsebox and suffering a horrific six-inch fracture to her skull.

The event vet Charlotte Briggs ordered that the pony be put down and a member of the Beaufort hunt was called to shoot it.

Witnesses claimed that they saw Mr Rowsell and others beating Fanta with a length of plastic piping and kicking her as they tried to load her for some 15mins before the accident. Mr Roswell denied using any unnecessary force to load the pony.

Miss Ashelford admitted using a lunge whip to encourage the pony into the horsebox, while Mr Rowsell tried to pull the pony into the box with the lead rope, but denied that the pony was kicked or beaten at any time.

North Avon Magistrates’ Court heard that Fanta had a history of being difficult to handle and that it was not unusual for her to rear or run backwards. They also heard that she had been troublesome to load on the way to the event.

District judge Simon Cooper said that due to the inconsistencies of witnesses it was impossible to be certain that Mr Rowsell had kicked Fanta or hit her with a pipe, or that Miss Ashelford had allowed that treatment. As a result both defendants were cleared of causing unnecessary suffering to the pony.

The judge continued by saying that he believed it had been “ill-advised, ill-thought out and even wrong” to have taken Fanta to the sponsored ride last September, but that it had not been cruel.

Mr Rowsell and Miss Ashelford wept with relief as the verdict was given.

After the case had been concluded Mr Rowsell said: “It’s a great relief. I’m just glad that the truth has been told.”