Racehorse trainer Howard Johnson has been banned for four years and is to retire from the sport.

The Co Durham-based trainer appeared before a British Horseracing Authority inquiry last month on welfare charges after one of his horses, Striking Article, was found to have been run eight times after having its leg “de-nerved”. Mr Johnson said he was unaware it was against the Rules.

During a claiming chase at Musselburgh on 7 February 2010 Striking Article, owned by Graham and Andrea Wylie, was pulled up with an injured tendon and subsequently put down.

A post mortem found the horse had undergone a palmar neurectomy. This procedure severs the nervous connection in the lower leg and is banned in the sport on welfare grounds as it affects the horse’s ability to feel pain.

It transpires Striking Article had undergone the banned procedure in April 2008 and run eight times since.

Mr Johnson was also charged with administering anabolic steroids to three of his horses, Whisky Magic, Mintake Pass and Montoya’s Son, also belonging to Mr and Mrs Wylie.

The trainer was banned for three years for the neurectomy charges and one for the steroids.

His fate was announced today (Friday 12 August) and he confirmed his retirement.

Paul Struthers, from the BHA said: “The Authority is satisfied that the disciplinary panel has imposed a significant and appropriate sanction. A four-year disqualification means that Howard Johnson is unable to work in or have any involvement with racing, including a prohibition on entering licensed premises such as training yards or racecourses, not just in Britain but the rest of the world.

“The Panel stated that Mr Johnson had shown a ‘reckless disregard’ for the Rules, that his behaviour ‘fell seriously short of the standard to be expected of a licensed trainer’ and that ‘any lesser penalty would undermine the confidence stakeholders in racing are entitled to hold that, reckless disregard of equine welfare, will not be tolerated’.”

And World Horse Welfare welcomed the ban saying it was “proportionate to the seriousness of his crime”.

“When we use horses in sport, that places a significant burden of responsibility on our shoulders for their welfare, and Howard Johnson simply did not live up to that responsibility,” said chief executive Roly Owers.

“He showed a callous disregard for the well-being of the horse when he made the decision – not once but eight times – to run Striking Article without any feeling in one of his forefeet. This was a reprehensible act that clearly crossed the line between the acceptable and unacceptable use of horses in sport.

“We are also dismayed that a trainer of Johnson’s experience and stature is pleading ignorance of the rules. Ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the rules but more importantly it’s no excuse for cruelty.

“This case should send out a clear message to everyone involved in racing that the welfare of the horse has to come first, not the need to win at any cost.”