A successful show rider has been ordered to pay damages of £5,653.64, plus costs — which are expected to be in excess of £50,000 — after putting a horse that was on bute forward for a pre-sale vetting. A judge ruled that she had acted “dishonestly and fraudulently” by administering the drug prior to the veterinary examination.

Mrs Annette Hance sold Rich Champion, her lightweight show cob gelding, to Mrs Gerry Spencer for £8,000 in October 2004. Shortly afterwards, the previous top amateur British Show Hack Cob and Riding Horse Association winner was found to have a distinct shiver and hindlimb irregularity; subsequent veterinary investigations confirmed a degenerative bone spavin.

The horse had undergone a five-stage pre-purchase vetting, and when the blood sample was tested subsequently, it was found to contain phenylbutazone, or bute.

As the medical conditions were likely to prevent Rich Champion from further show ring success, Buckinghamshire-based Mrs Spencer instructed equine specialist Darbys Solicitors to enter into negotiations for the return of the horse with Oxfordshire-based Mrs Hance’s solicitors, Ashfords.

Following an 18-month legal battle, no settlement could be agreed and the case went to court.

His Honour Judge Harris QC, sitting at Oxford County Court, dismissed Mrs Hance’s explanation that the analgesic had been administered accidentally when four identical feed buckets became confused as “an unlikely and untruthful explanation”. Having heard veterinary evidence from both parties, he concluded that the horse’s condition would have been evident before the examination had it not been for the presence of bute.

The trial took place in March, but Mrs Spencer is still waiting for costs to be agreed. If no agreement is reached, there will be a hearing in December when enforcement proceedings are likely to take place.

  • This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (2 November, ’06)