Rescued horses on the road to recovery

They have witnessed scenes of horror and been mistreated on a scale never seen before in Britain. But today these neglected horses and donkeys were starting a new life after being brought to Norfolk following a dramatic rescue operation.

They have witnessed scenes of horror and been mistreated on a scale never seen before in Britain.

But these neglected horses and donkeys were starting a new life after being brought to Norfolk following a dramatic rescue operation.

Among them was a two-month-old donkey foal, thought to be the youngest rescued from a field where dozens of horses had been “left to die”.

The foal, who has been named Esther, was taken with her mother, to Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Hapton, near Long Stratton, with 19 other horses, donkeys and ponies for urgent care.

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They had been rescued from a farm in Hyde Heath, Amersham, Bucks, by the RSPCA after 97 horses were found in squalid conditions where they had been forced to stand in excrement and the remains of other dead animals.

Some 32 animals had already died by the time officers were called to the site at the weekend and three had to be put to sleep immediately.

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The British Horse Society's welfare senior executive Lee Hackett said: “Mistreatment on this scale is unprecedented in Britain - the true horror of the situation is only now becoming clear.”

Born just two months earlier animal welfare officers say Esther's survival in such conditions is, “incredible”.

A Redwings spokeswoman said: “She is playful today and that is a really good sign. We think she must be the youngest one they found.”

Some of the other animals that staff at Redwings are now treating have not been so lucky, the spokeswoman said.

“Some of them just won't let anyone near them at all. We have to put those through a gradual handling programme and let them recover before we eventually release them into a herd.

“Redwings Horse Sanctuary has travelled to rescues on many occasions but rarely sees cruelty so far advanced that equines are seemingly forgotten and literally left to die.”

Another 11 horses and ponies, who arrived caked in mud and excrement, were recovering after finding refuge at the Snetterton-based International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH).

The charities responded swiftly by sending teams of vets and staff to the farm, along with dozens of horseboxes and trailers to transport the animals back to Norfolk.

Some 30 staff from Redwings worked round the clock to catch and load the animals, some of which appeared to have never been handled before.

Redwings education and welfare officer Helen Whitelegg said: “Our vets are now assessing them and will be checking things like their weight and feet and teeth.”

Ms Whitelegg said that some of the animals were being kept in quarantine as a precaution against strangles, a potentially fatal, highly contagious, respiratory infection.

She added: “At the moment we are giving them basic, but very good quality nutrition, little and often. We do not want to overload them in case they have a compromised system.”

Redwings chief executive Lynn Cutress said: “From the images I have seen, and what I have heard from my staff, I think this is the most horrific case I have ever come across. Now all these organisations are working together to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Ms Cutress said that offers of financial help were pouring in. Overnight on Wednesday she said that people moved by the horses' plight had pledged £14,000 in online donations, with money coming from as far away as New York.

She praised the work of vets Nic de Brauwere and Roxane Kirton, along with the rest of the charity's staff for their efforts, and said that once the animals had recovered a decision would be taken over whether to re-home them.

An ILPH spokeswoman said that the neglected horses and ponies it had taken in were also being examined by vets.

“When they arrived they were totally covered in excrement and mud,” the spokeswoman said. “They are certainly very hungry. The first thing they did when they got in their stables was to put their heads down and start eating.

“A lot of them have got various cuts and scrapes and one in particular looks like a young thoroughbred and is very thin indeed.”

The spokeswoman said it had received numerous offers of financial support and offers of homes for the horses.

But she said: “These horses are not ready to be re-homed. However, we do have 30 horses that we are looking for homes for and we would be really happy for people who think they might be able to offer one of these horses a home to get in touch with us as this would free up space and staff care for the horses that have just come in.”

Thames Valley Police were at the scene assisting the RSPCA and on Wednesday night they charged James Gray, 44, from Amersham with criminal damage and assault on a police officer after he was arrested on Friday. He is due to appear before Aylesbury magistrates on Monday.

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