Ponies living in horrific conditions may have spent their lives ‘imprisoned’

  • A couple have been told had it not been for their age and medical needs, they would have been going “straight to prison” for allowing ponies to suffer in “barbaric” conditions “all their lives”.

    Jack Carter, 75, and his wife Barabara, 72, of Bank Bridge, Tarleton, Lancashire, who bred, showed, and kept horses for 60 years, pleaded guilty to three animal welfare offences, when they appeared at Lancashire Magistrates’ Court on 20 January.

    The pair admitted to causing unnecessary suffering to four Welsh ponies by failing to provide “adequate or any” hoof care, adequate or any treatment for thrush and dermatitis, and confining the ponies in a “filthy unsanitary” environment for a prolonged period resulting in “severe prolonged psychological suffering”.

    They also admitted to causing unnecessary suffering to a Welsh section A mare by providing inadequate dental care leading to ulceration to her mouth and trauma to her tongue, and failing to provide veterinary treatment to another mare’s “painful” eye condition.

    An RSPCA spokesman said the charity was called in March 2021 to investigate the premises after a member of the public raised concerns about the welfare of a pony believed to be in the Carters’ care. When RSPCA inspector Vicki McDonald visited on 22 March she could see a “run-down” stable block behind the couple’s house but was unable to access this without permission.

    In the following days Ms McDonald made several attempts to contact the Carters by telephone to arrange a visit, but on a number of occasions Mr Carter messaged back and said he was unable to show the inspector around the property, citing “various reasons”, or failed to make contact with her.

    Ms McDonald was concerned Mr Carter was avoiding a visit so she returned to the area to view the stable from a nearby public footpath and saw that a green sheet and wire mesh now covered the doorway of the “dilapidated” stable she had seen on her first visit. She believed there was a pony inside, who Mr Carter was “trying to hide” so Ms McDonald arranged a formal visit to the property with Lancashire Police on 7 April.

    During the visit Ms McDonald asked to see inside the stable at the back of the house and Mr Carter “reluctantly” agreed. Ms McDonald told the court of her “shock” at what she found in that building and three other “ramshackle” stables.

    “Inside the first stable I found a grey pony in horrendous environmental and physical condition. I had never seen anything like it in my entire career,” Ms McDonald said.

    “The pony was standing on top of deep rotting litter that had built up so much, it reached the top of the stable door. The pony was unable to fully stand up and its back protruded through a hole in the stable roof. In addition I saw the pony had severely overgrown feet beyond anything I had seen before. The hooves extended out and corkscrewed. Further rotting litter was piled up in front of the stable, preventing the stable door from opening.”

    Ms McDonald said the next stable contained a chestnut pony, and across from that box were two more grey ponies.

    “The grey ponies’ behaviour was particularly disturbing. They seemed very stressed and erratic. I noticed that all the ponies had matting to their coats. They also had patches of sore skin, most likely from having no option but to lie in their own filth,” she said.

    “To say the physical and environmental conditions of these ponies was shocking is a gross understatement. They also stood on deep rotting litter piled as high as the stable doors inside and also in front of the doors, preventing any possibility of the doors opening. They all had horrendously overgrown hooves that had started to corkscrew. There was very little room for them to move around or even stand normally. Their backs reached the stable roofs.

    “It was obvious that none of these ponies had been out of their stables or been seen by a farrier for a very considerable amount of time, if at all. It was my opinion that based on what I had seen, it was highly possible that these ponies had been in these stables all their lives.”

    An independent vet attended but advised that the four ponies, thought to be aged between six and seven years old, should be put down to “end their suffering”. She noted in her report that the ponies were neglected in “every aspect of basic requirement”, and the conditions they were kept in were “extremely barbaric”.

    “The severe lack of care and level of suffering endured by these ponies was prolonged, wholly avoidable and totally inexcusable. It was heartbreaking to find them in such a neglectful state and for them, after such an awful life, to be beyond saving,” said Ms McDonald.

    “These ponies were kept stabled within a few feet of the back door to the Carters’ home address. They would have seen them daily and their plight would have been ignored daily. The extreme level of neglect I witnessed in this case is unlikely to ever be surpassed and will remain with me.

    “They were imprisoned in cramped, ramshackle and rotting conditions, forced to live and lie amongst their own faecal matter. They could not stand naturally, they could not behave naturally, graze, exercise or socialise, they were not provided with any of the necessary veterinary or farrier care they urgently required and they could not escape their confines or be accessed in an emergency. In my opinion the neglect of these ponies was physically, environmentally and psychologically cruel and this had clearly been their existence for a considerable period of time.”

    Mr Carter told the RSPCA the couple had more ponies stables a short walk away in Liverpool Road and when the charity visited five were found. They had access to food and water but were in a “neglected state” and had a “range” of health issues.

    The ponies were signed over into the care of the RSPCA and taken for an emergency veterinary examination. Four were found to be suffering and put down. The remaining pony will be rehabilitated and rehomed.

    PC Sean Dalby, a wildlife officer for Lancashire Police, said it was a “shocking case of needless cruelty” that should not have happened.

    Mr and Mrs Carter were banned from keeping animals for life. They were sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. They were ordered to pay £500 costs each.

    During sentencing, the magistrates heard the Carters had been given the opportunity to work with the RSPCA on previous occasions but they did not seek that help. The presiding magistrate said the case was “extremely distressing.

    “This crosses the custody threshold for the reason of prolonged ill-treatment and neglect which resulted in a high level of suffering. The only reason the sentence was suspended is to take into account the defendants’ medical needs and age. If it was not for these factors you would be going straight to prison,” he said.

    PC Sean Dalby, a wildlife officer for Lancashire Police, said it was a “shocking case of needless cruelty” that should not have happened.

    “I am happy the court took the matter so seriously and the south rural task force will continue to investigate and target animal cruelty offenders. We would like to thank the RSPCA with this case and will continue to support them,” he said.

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