Ponies found suffering at ‘sanctuary’ that offered ‘equine-assisted therapy’

  • Three people have received suspended prison sentences after ponies at an “animal sanctuary” that “offered equine-assisted therapy” were found suffering.

    Sarah Jayne Baker, 33, Darren Laker, 45, and James Baker, 54, all from Par, Cornwall, were sentenced at Truro Crown Court on 29 February, for offences relating to animals at Family Nest Therapy in Par.

    The RSPCA and other agencies made a number of visits and interventions in relation to complaints made over the welfare of the animals under the trio’s care.

    A concerned member of the public contacted the Mare and Foal Sanctuary in 2021. After monitoring the situation over several months, the charity escalated the case to the RSPCA, which pursued prosecution.

    The RSPCA found some animals in poor condition, with their ribs clearly visible, and others suffering from untreated conditions such as lameness or overgrown hooves.

    “We found three Shetland ponies tied up outside a stable. There was a black gelding, mini Shetland, in poor bodily condition called Shadow, a dun mini Shetland gelding, in poor bodily condition called Walter and a black/roan mini Shetland stallion in poor bodily condition called Sven,” said RSPCA inspector Claire Ryder.

    She added that it was a hot day and the three Shetland ponies and a cob “were out in the full heat with no water”.

    “We walked to a field and found a small paddock with poor fencing. There was no grass and just a bald area of dry mud,” said Ms Ryder.

    “The plants and docks had been eaten. There was hay but it was dry and mouldy in the middle and it was not edible. There was water, but no shelter or shade for the ponies.”

    In this field, they found two Shetland ponies, both with gunky eyes and in very poor bodily condition, and a part-bred Shetland with an eye issue who was in poor to fair bodily condition.

    At an earlier hearing, Sarah Baker admitted six offences under the Animal Welfare Act, while James Baker admitted to five, relating to 14 horses. Laker pleaded guilty to one offence, relating to one horse.

    At the sentencing, Sarah Baker said she should have contacted a vet sooner, while Laker apologised for his disregard. James Baker said that while ignorance is no defence, he knew little about animals and should have taken them to vets straight away.

    Both Bakers were sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years, and were disqualified from owning all animals for life.

    Laker was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and disqualified from owning equines for 10 years, with no right to appeal for five years.

    Following the sentencing, RSPCA Inspector Miranda Albinson said: “It’s vitally important that people make sure their animals are cared for properly. I’d like to say a big thank you to the officers and staff from The Horse Trust, Donkey Sanctuary and Mare and Foal Sanctuary for their assistance in this case.

    “We will always look into reports of animals suffering and we depend on the public to be our eyes and ears and report any concerns to us.”

    The Mare and Foal Sanctuary’s equine welfare outreach and advice team provided evidence in the case, and its staff spent more than 14 months nursing a large group of equines back to health.

    The Mare and Foal Sanctuary’s senior welfare advisor Rebecca Sherrell said the case has “really stuck” with her.

    “Many of the equines were in a very poor state with conjunctivitis, lice, malnourishment, worm burden, overgrown hooves, heart conditions, alopecia, anaemia and chronic inflammation,” she said.

    “Their bones showed through their skin, and some were covered in paint brush marks from children’s parties. We also believe some were showing signs of severe depression. It was shocking to see, especially at a place which claimed to offer equine-assisted therapy.”

    Three Shetlands, who have fully recovered, have a home for life at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, with the remaining nine equines moving to The Horse Trust in Buckinghamshire.

    The three Shetlands at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, who are back to full health.

    Jeanette Allen, chief executive of The Horse Trust, said: “The mini herd of Shetlands have captured everyone’s hearts here at our sanctuary and we are working incredibly hard to make sure their trust in people continues to grow so that we can give them the best possible future.

    “It’s always incredibly gratifying when charities are able to work together collaboratively to get the best outcome for the animals we all care about.

    “Overall, the ponies and horses are all doing really well. Sven and Olaf are two in particular getting additional expert support from our behavioural care team to continue to help rebuild their trust in people.”

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