Family’s devastation as pony put down after livery yard incident

A mother whose daughter’s pony was put down following an alleged dog attack is warning others about the dangers of having unattended dogs on stable yards.

Eleven-year-old Connemara Sofia had been found in her stable with unexplained injuries on two separate occasions before the final incident where both her ears were almost severed.

The quiet and “sweet-natured” pony had been bought for Rachael Readman’s 11-year-old daughter Luna as a Christmas present just three months earlier.

Sofia had been found with lacerations to the top of her head and her right ear “hanging off” in an incident in January this year. Staff at Edenwell Equestrian Centre, Hartlepool, where the pony was kept on DIY livery, said she had been cast and the injuries were self-inflicted.

Mrs Readman said Sofia had been taken to the vets by staff and the stable had been cleaned before she arrived at the yard. The pony healed well from the wounds and Luna was back riding her three weeks later.

In March, Sofia was found with “puncture wounds” to her crest which were believed to have been caused by a bite from a pony in the box next door, which was moved.

In the third incident, five days later, Sofia was found with wounds to the top of her neck and muzzle, which vet Jamie Stewart described as “consistent with a dog bite” in his veterinary report, and both ears almost detached. She had already been taken to Oaklands Veterinary Centre by yard owner Colin Bentham and yard manager Gail McAuley when Mrs Readman was alerted to her injuries.

*Warning: click link to view graphic images of injuries: image one, image two*

A dog, described as a small, mastiff-type breed, was left to roam the yard at night and had been found in the morning jumping up and down at the pony’s door with blood on its mouth. The dog was put down by the attending vet at the request of Mr Bentham.

“The experience has been absolutely horrific,” said Mrs Readman, who works as a senior trading standards officer. “I think I was quite naïve after the first incident and felt that as long as Sofia was OK and was going to get better, it was a blip in the road — hindsight is a brilliant thing.

“The second incident I was at first told was an injury from a rug buckle and then that it was the pony next door. I’d packed up ready to leave that time, as I was suspicious [about what had caused the injuries], but they persuaded me not to.

“Looking back on the whole situation, we had this poor, gorgeous pony who we’d only owned for three months and because of these injuries has now been put to sleep.

“It’s really badly affected my daughter Luna — we had some money left to us by my grandmother and we looked for months for a pony for her. She was getting ready to do some one day events and join the Pony Club and it’s all been taken away from her.”

She added that “money had been no object” in her battle to save Sofia, but after nine days in intensive care, one ear became necrotic, requiring surgical removal, and the other was given just a 40% chance of survival and she felt the pony had “suffered enough”.

“Every time the injuries were to her poll and the top of her neck — we don’t know why it happened more than once but all we can think is that she kept falling asleep leaning over her stable door, ” Mrs Readman added.

“She was a really friendly pony and when I spoke to the lady I bought her from, who was devastated, she said she had no fear of dogs and they wouldn’t have been an issue for her. She was imported from Ireland where she hunted.”

Edenwell Equestrian Centre’s owner Mr Bentham said he “strongly denied the injuries sustained in three separate incidents were caused by our dog,” and that he regretted having her put to sleep, describing it as a “knee-jerk reaction”.

Both he and his staff said that the pony must have had neurological issues and had been experiencing fits or perhaps narcolepsy.

“In the first incident there was absolutely nothing to suggest any involvement from the dog, scrub marks on the stable walls and blood on the floor to the rear of the stable suggested the pony may have been cast and injured in its attempts to get up,” he said, adding that the pony also suffered a severe swelling of the eye consistent with banging its head.

“The third and final incident consisted of injuries, which again resulted in blood to the rear of the stable, thrash marks at low level on stable walls and nothing to the stable door.

“After each incident it was suggested by our vet that the pony is more likely to have been suffering some kind of seizures causing it to thrash around on the floor thus causing the injuries it sustained.”

He added that the dog, who he’d owned for five years, had never shown any signs of aggression and that in the past livery’s horses had escaped their stables while the dog was loose without incident.

“We know we have a duty of care and would never duck away from our responsibilities,” he said.

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Yard manager Gail McAuley added that there was no “cover up” and that other liveries had entered the yard at the same time as her on the morning of the third incident.

“There was no blood on the door or in front of it,” she said. “If the dog had attacked over the door then there would have been. There was blood and sudocrem [from the pony’s previous neck wound] all around the wall at the back of the stable though.

“I am devastated about it, I have worked with horses all my life and I’ve never seen anything like it, but it wasn’t the dog,” she said.

Mrs Readman said she was aware of the comments about the pony relating to fits or narcolepsy and added that it had been monitored during its eight days in intensive care for any signs of neurological issues and none were shown.

Mrs Readman has received a £5,680.74 insurance payout from Mr Bentham’s insurers following the incident, which he said was paid out under the care and custodial section of his policy.

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