“These horses were rotting away,” World Horse Welfare field officer Emma Swadlo said of the distressing sight confronting rescuers in a British field.
“They had maggots crawling out of their frogs and severely long feet. The smell was like nothing I have ever smelt before.
“If these horses had been left in the environment they were living in then they would have simply rotted away.
“The shed that the three youngsters were forced to live in was three foot deep with manure, there was not a patch of green in the fields and all the horses had to eat were barrels of rotting bread.”
World Horse Welfare, the British RSPCA and Redwings pulled together resources at short notice last week to rescue the 17 horses.
World Horse Welfare received an anonymous call about the horses.
Swadlo, the charity’s field officer for Essex, was dispatched to the Romford area with RSPCA inspector Steven Reeves.
They found two fields with several feral horses spread across them.
At first sight the horses appeared to have terrible feet and were living in an unfit environment. Both organisations felt that further investigation was needed.
The charity’s officers soon returned with the police and a warrant.
On closer inspection, the charities found stabling that housed three youngsters in a desperate situation – the smell inside the shed was potent. In the field, Swadlo found a very ill mare and her foal. The mare looked as if she wouldn’t be able to make it.
The horses were not microchipped, so owners could not be identified.
Staff asked travellers found near the site about the animals, but they said they did not belong to them.
Swadlo said a decision was made to remove 11 of the worst affected horses from the first field.
“These horses needed a nutritious diet. Bread doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid, and when it is rotting too – well it’s just not good enough.
“Catching them was hard. They were all completely unhandled and we were doing this in the dark. We did not want to hang around until the next morning. This case was too serious.”
RSPCA Chief Inspector Dawn Avery said: “This was such a serious situation that the horses had to be removed so they could be treated.
“I’m pleased that they will now be well cared for by World Horse Welfare and hopefully find good new homes.
“We face a growing crisis of horses left without care like these and it’s only through the charities working together that we can try to help them.”
The worst-affected horses received immediate farriery treatment and the three youngsters found in the shed are now in a holding yard receiving urgent care as they are not well enough to travel.
Sadly, the mare’s hooves were rotting so badly that her hooves were falling off. The decision was made to euthanize her.
The seven remaining equines of the worst-affected group were taken safely to World Horse Welfare’s Rescue and Rehoming Centre at Hall Farm, in Norfolk, where they are currently undergoing rehabilitation.
Swadlo says: “When the horses were in a safe environment the vets examinations showed every horse’s blood to be in particularly bad condition. This was due to the lack of fibre and proper sustenance in their diet.
“We quickly became worried about the other horses in the second field.
“On first sight the horses in the second field did not look in particularly poor condition, but after bloods were taken from the horses in the first field we quickly realised that they were rotting from the inside.
“Immediately, we felt it was a priority to go back for the rest.”
The charity Redwings helped in the operation, transporting the remaining ponies into World Horse Welfare’s care.
Redwings’ head of welfare Nic de Brauwere, a veterinarian, said it was important for charities to work together on larger and more challenging cases to make best use of their respective skills and specialist resources.
“It is just appalling that so many horses and ponies were left by their owners despite being in clear need of better care and veterinary treatment.”
Swadlo said it was one of the worst cases she had seen. “Just watching the farrier having to stop and retch every so often due to the strong smell coming from these poor horses as their feet were rotting away tells you how badly these horses were suffering.
“The worst part is that nobody would claim them or care for them.
“It’s just so fortunate that charities help each other out so well on the ground, otherwise it would quickly become difficult to cope with group cases like this alone.”
British charities have warned of the growing equine crisis across Britain. They believe that 7000 horses are at risk of neglect or abandonment in Britain.