Police warn: don’t offer rewards to horse thieves

  • Horse owners are being urged not to offer a reward for the return of their animal if it is stolen.

    The warning, from Horsewatch coordinators, follows a worrying trend of Shetland pony owners paying thieves to return their ponies.

    “Word has gone well and truly round the undesirables that this is an easy way to make money,” said former policeman David Collings, from Hampshire Horsewatch.

    “It’s like a kidnap ransom — advertising a reward sends out the wrong message.”

    He said a typical scenario would involve a victim receiving a call several days after a pony was stolen, from someone claiming to “know someone” who had bought a pony fitting the description of the one advertised.

    “They’ll say that if they’re reimbursed with the £300 they paid for it, the pony will be returned safely,” explained Mr Collings.

    But the caller will insist police are not involved, and owners could be compromising their own safety for their horse’s return.

    Michelle Coates, a Shetland breeder from Hertfordshire, lost her pony Cotton Candy last October. After the palomino disappeared, Ms Coates put up posters and spread the word that she would offer a reward for the pony’s return.

    “I was approached by someone who knew a traveller who had been sold the pony, and they said I could have her back for £300,” she said. “I met them in a lay-by near Borehamwood. I notified the police and they told me to be careful, but I didn’t ask them to come because I wouldn’t have seen my pony again.”

    Now Cotton Candy is back home, but Ms Coates has rented alternative fields for her horses. She was too nervous to leave them where they were.

    Helen Evans from Thames Valley Horsewatch said police should always be notified.

    “They can’t not be interested, because it is stolen property,” she said.

    And Mr Collings appealed to the equestrian community to “stand strong”.

    “Or this will escalate,” he warned. “And people are putting themselves in potentially life-threatening positions for the sake of a horse.”

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound (7 May, ’09)

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