A ranch owner has been charged with 30 counts of animal cruelty, following the discovery of 28 dead horses at his stables.

Dwight Bennett, 57, of the Whispering Pines ranch in Susanville, California, is in jail awaiting trial. He has also been charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance.

Fifty-six horses – at least 18 of which are in foal – were rescued from the ranch suffering from malnutrition and are being cared for at an animal sanctuary.

In a case that has echoes of Spindles Farm in the UK, the horses appear to have died because their owner failed to feed them or take basic steps to ensure their survival.

Beth DeCaprio of the Grace Foundation, which is looking after the surviving horses, said it was the worst case she had ever seen.

Ms DeCaprio said: “It was a graveyard for horses. Some of them were just skeletons.”

A video shot by the Grace Foundation at the site shows carcasses in various stages of decomposition. Others had been thrown into what she describes as “burial pits”.

Three dead dogs were also found, one hanging from a tree, in what appears to have been a deliberate killing.

According to local reports, Mr Bennett claims the animals were poisoned. Until he was charged on 28 October, he had been attempting to regain ownership of the horses.

“This is not a time of celebration,” said Ms DeCaprio. “At least 28 horses and three dogs lost their lives because the system did not work like it should have to protect them.

“But it is a great lesson for our volunteers to remember that each and every one of us has the ability to create change and right a wrong.”

After weeks of care, the surviving horses are said to be doing well and one is to be re-homed as a police horse.

The Grace Foundation has launched a campaign to raise the estimated $150,000 ( £93,000) they will need to care for the horses and unborn foals over the next year.

Below is a film made by the Grace Foundation about three of the surviving horses. You may find some of the scenes upsetting:

If you would like to make a donation to help with the rehabilitation of the horses, visit: http://thegracefoundationofnorcal.org/