Social media has come to the rescue of an abused horse, after police appealed on networking sites to the public to help locate it.

Dorset police called for witnesses through Facebook and Twitter after reports that a horse was tied to the back of a vehicle, dragged along and beaten by two men with a rope when it fell. The incident happened on 2 April in Bridport.

Thanks to a “phenomenal response”, the horse and the perpetrators were found less than 12 hours later.

The Facebook post was seen by 15,760 people. Many helped spread news of the incident by sharing the statement released by the police on the Bridport, Beaminster and Lyme Regis Safer Neighbourhood Teams’ page on 3 April.

PC Scott McGregor posted the appeal initially on Facebook, then circulated the link on his @BridPoliceSNT Twitter timeline to 996 followers, where it was retweeted.

Animal-related stories always touch a nerve and so it was no surprise to me that this had such a quick result,” PC McGregor told H&H. “Within 8-10hr we had identified several lines of enquiry. From our point of view, it gets people talking and shows people that the community is watching.”

The RSPCA told H&H that inspectors have seen the horse since it was found and confirmed that it was uninjured. They were told that the horse “was being taken to its new owners when it was being seen dragged and hit”.

“The new owners we have met say they are not the ones seen hitting the horse,” said an RSPCA spokesman. “They had made arrangements for their vet to visit and health-check the pony.”

“It was clearly a horrible incident and a horrific way to treat an animal,” she added. “We are unable to take further action at this time as the witnesses we had unfortunately weren’t happy to be involved further.”