A couple who ignored their ban on keeping equines were given suspended prison sentences after 19 ponies – including one in “uncontrollable pain” – were found in their care.
Stanley Strelley, 51, and his wife Heather, 51, of Bron Gwendraeth, Kidwelly, admitted two animal welfare offences and breaching a five-year disqualification order when they appeared before Llanelli magistrates in January. The couple were sentenced at the same court on Thursday (10 February).
Magistrates heard that RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben and World Horse Welfare field officer Tony Evans visited the couple at a farm in Trimsaran Road, Kidwelly, on 28 May, 2021, following reports of a lame pony and a breach of ban offence.
A total of 13 section A Welsh ponies were found at the property, along with a further six in a field outside. The majority of those stabled were showing stress-induced behaviours and a bay mare called Maia, who was reluctant to move, was found to be suffering from untreated laminitis.
The couple denied the ponies belonged to them and instead gave inspector Hogben the name of a woman, with two different surnames, who they claimed was the owner. They also told him that Maia had seen a vet six to eight weeks previously.
Mrs Strelley was repeatedly asked for the owner’s contact number, but when it was eventually provided, there was no reply. When the alleged owner eventually spoke to inspector Hogben later that day, she told him that Maia belonged to her and had seen a vet. However, the two veterinary practices, whose names were given to the inspector, said they had never heard of the pony.
A vet visited the farm for the RSPCA later that day and confirmed Maia was lame on all four legs. She added that it was evident the mare was in “uncontrollable pain”, had been suffering unnecessarily for six to eight weeks, and was unlikely to have been seen by a vet or farrier in that time.
The pony was removed that day by police and placed in RSPCA care.
“In this case, I believe much earlier intervention with a veterinarian and a farrier would have prevented ongoing suffering of this mare,” said the vet, in evidence to the court.
“The appearance of the mare’s hooves externally show that she was overdue trimming and this, along with other factors such as breed, stress, diet and increased weight, would have predisposed her to laminitis.
“In my opinion the barn environment was stressful as the majority of the ponies were exhibiting stress-induced behaviours such as cribbing, kicking, snorting and biting. These ponies, including the laminitic mare, were fed ad-lib haylage which, as a source of high starch, is inappropriate for laminitis-prone breeds and a pony currently suffering from the condition.”
Magistrates were told a different woman, whose name was given to inspector Hogben, was not the ponies’ owner. The court heard this woman said Mrs Strelley had been sending her messages, asking her to say the ponies were hers and had offered her money to do so.
The Strelleys continued to deny ownership of all the ponies until 8 June when, via a letter from the solicitor, they admitted they were theirs.
The couple, who were already serving a five-year ban issued on 31 January 2019, were given an additional five-year ban and suspended jail sentences on 10 February.
The two animal welfare offences the pair were charged with were causing unnecessary suffering by failing to ensure a pony received appropriate veterinary and/or farrier care as a consequence of lameness, and that they did not take reasonable steps to ensure ponies’ needs were met, in terms of diet and a suitable living environment that minimised stress.
The mitigation given for their actions was that they loved the ponies too much to give them up, and that they couldn’t seek veterinary treatment because it was likely the vet would know they were banned from keeping equines.
Mrs Strelley was given a 12- and an eight-week prison sentence, to run concurrently, suspended for two years – for breaching the disqualification order and causing unnecessary suffering respectively. She was also ordered to pay costs of £1,000 and a £128 victim surcharge, and was given a 7pm to 7am curfew for four months and must carry out 25 days of rehabilitation activity requirements.
Her husband was given an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, for breaching his ban, and ordered to pay the same costs and victim surcharge as his wife. He must also undertake 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 200 hours of unpaid work.
Maia has since been rehomed and the remaining ponies are under new ownership.
After the case, inspector Hogben said: “Mr and Mrs Strelley have shown a total disregard for the law and the sentence that was handed out to them when they appeared in court for previous animal welfare offences.
“Unfortunately another pony has now suffered unnecessarily due to Mrs Strelley’s failure to treat a hoof problem that she was fully aware of.
“We are very pleased that Maia made a full recovery after receiving excellent veterinary treatment and rehabilitation by equine professionals.
“We are grateful to our friends at World Horse Welfare, in particular field officer Tony Evans, for their support in this case, which is another example of what we can achieve together for animal welfare.”
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