Rescued horses start new life at Norfolk stables

Three years after they were the victims of one of the worst cases of neglect ever seen by the RSPCA, these rescued horses are the picture of health.

With his flowing golden mane, rich chestnut coat, sparkling eyes and easy temperament, four-year-old Welsh pony Jerry is a picture of health and vitality.

So it is almost impossible to believe that just three years ago Jerry's future looked desperate, kept in appalling conditions by a Buckinghamshire horse dealer and starving to death, a victim of one of the worst cases of neglect ever seen by the RSPCA.

But Jerry was one of the lucky ones, rescued by the charity and brought back to full health by one of its volunteers before being re-homed in five-star accommodation in Norfolk.

And he was joined at Tamsin Conyers' Weston Equestrian Centre in Weston Longville by two other rescued friends, Twiggy, a three-year-old Friesian mare, and bay cob Hamish.

The three, who have since been joined by another cob, Leo, are finally enjoying the kind of life they could only have dreamed of when they were kept in the horrific conditions at James Gray's Spindle Farm near Amersham.

Others were not so fortunate, left to die where they fell or burned on bonfires before the RSPCA stepped in to rescue the 100 surviving horses, ponies and donkeys.

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Many of the survivors came straight to Norfolk to be nursed back to health and rehabilitated at World Horse Welfare at Snetterton and Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Hapton, near Long Stratton.

Jerry, Twiggy and Hamish initially went to an anonymous Norfolk volunteer who gave them a 'safe stable' and turned their lives around. Last year 37 of the horses were felt to be recovered enough to be re-homed and an adoption appeal saw the charity inundated by 1,500 responses from the public. As a result, new homes were found for a further 80 horses that had been rescued by the RSPCA from elsewhere.

Miss Conyers said she found out about the appeal during a visit to the vet. 'I met a lady who was looking after two Shetlands for the RSPCA and she said they needed a home so I said I would have them,' she said. 'When I went to pick them up she said she had these Amersham horses coming up for re-homing.

'I put my name down for five or six but in the end I got three and then later picked up a fourth.'

She said they had all recovered incredibly well. 'Twiggy was three last year and we are just starting to ride her. The cobs will be five this year and we were able to back them straight away. Jerry was still a little bit nervous to start with but he is amazing now – he has just given a lesson to a four-year-old girl.

'People think they will be so traumatised but they have been cared for for two years by really good people. We now have lovely, healthy ponies ready to get going and enjoy life.'

Miss Conyers, who has been at Weston for four years and is a BSJA accredited show jumping coach, runs the centre as a livery and competition yard as well as giving private lessons to individuals. She said the ponies will be ridden at most once a day and enjoy the fun of all the shows in the summer. But more importantly they will get all the love and attention they were so lacking in their former lives, although she said she tries not to think too much about their early years.

'I do feel sad about the way they were treated. When you see pictures of them it upsets me quite a lot and I think it is more outrageous because we now know them and have seen what lovely animals they are.

'It is horrendous to think what they went through in their young lives. The great thing about them is they now have a clean sheet and we are learning every day what they are capable of. They are my little treasures and I hope they will spend the rest of their days here.'

RSPCA equine re-homing officer Sally Learoyd said: 'We had a massive response to the Amersham appeal and we would like to thank everyone who supported us. The horses are doing well in brilliant homes. They have had a long and difficult journey but now have great futures ahead of them. It is wonderful to see.'

In May 2009, horse dealer James Gray and his son James Gray Junior were found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to 40 equines after a 12-week trial.

Along with Gray's wife, Julie, and daughters Jodie and Cordelia, they were also found guilty of failing to meet the welfare needs of a further 114 equines.

Gray was sentenced to six months in prison and banned from keeping horses, ponies and donkeys for life. He was also ordered to pay �400,000 costs. His sentence was increased to nine months after he absconded from court after a failed appeal.

His son was ordered to complete an 18-month supervision order and banned from keeping equines for 10 years.

Gray's wife and daughters were ordered to complete 150 hours of community service and were banned from keeping equines for 10 years.