ELEVEN Fjord horses nursed back to health following severe malnutrition and ragwort poisoning will be returned to their owner after a court failed to ban him from keeping horses.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals (SSPCA) and Aberdeenshire Council took chairman of the Fjord Horse Studbook Society (FHSS), David Stewart, to court on 17 March following the death from malnutrition and starvation of three horses in his care.

The SSPCA and the council hoped the trial would be a test case for prosecutions involving ragwort poisoning, but Mr Stewart changed his plea to guilty just before the hearing and was dealt with summarily by a sheriff at Banff. He was fined £720.

At his request, Fjord breeder Jacqueline Riley cared for 12 of Mr Stewart’s horses after the SSPCA discovery in February 2008 and said eight had severe liver damage due to ragwort poisoning. One died. Now they must go back to Mr Stewart.

Mrs Riley told H&H: “They had serious malnutrition. I’d never seen horses in this state before.”

FHHS members now want the stud book closed — it has less than 100 registered horses.

Registrar Fiona Nicholson said Mr Stewart was asked to resign in March 2008 after the Scottish government revoked the stud book’s authority to act as a passport issuing organisation (PIO).

Ms Nicholson said: “He agreed to stand down, but has since said he would not hand the paperwork over to us. The stud book is in limbo, but we want to wind it up.”

Mr Stewart was contacted by H&H, but did not return our calls.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (2 April, ’09)