A COUPLE have been banned from keeping animals after they neglected 40 horses in squalid conditions.

RSPCA inspectors found horses standing on muck 4ft high with their heads touching the roof of their stable in Hetton-le-Hole.

A shocked inspector described the environment as the “worst conditions she had ever seen” and told how the animals has to suffer because of the couple's failure to provide adequate healthcare. 

Gordon Hamilton Metcalf and Denise Ann Clark, both of Rutland Street, Hetton-le-Hole, were convicted of five animal welfare offences and sentenced at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court on Thursday, October 7.

Officers found 40 horses at the site who did not have their needs met due to the pair’s inactions. Many of the horses were found confined in areas significantly contaminated by droppings and the animals were without water, hay, or clean dry bedding for resting. 

The Northern Echo: Horses struggled to stand up inside hutsHorses struggled to stand up inside huts

A trial at Peterlee Magistrates' Court in September heard how RSPCA Inspectors Terri-Ann Fannon and Gemma Lynch and World Horse Welfare Field Officer Seema Ritson found horses in mud up to their knees. Some of the foals in the paddock could barely move as the mud was up to their chests. 

Inspector Fannon said: “The conditions in the paddock were horrendous. There was no dry standing area, the mud was above my knees when I stood in it and it was almost impossible to manoeuvre.”

Read more: Ban for Darlington woman who kept faeces-covered horses in 'appalling conditions'

The horses did not have a hard standing area to be able to stand out of the mud and several were found with overgrown hooves due to lack of farrier treatment.

The court heard how Inspector Fannon found four Shetland ponies and two cob type horses in the “worst conditions she had ever seen”. 

The Northern Echo: Access to some of the stable huts was obstructedAccess to some of the stable huts was obstructed

She said: “The horses stood on old hay, muck and faeces up to my shoulders (approximately 4 feet high). 

"There was no access in or out of the stable. The cobs were unable to lift their heads up as the muck was so high their heads were touching the roof of the stable. 

"They had no food or water. Several of my colleagues spent several hours digging out the horses. 

"A piebald mare had thick matted fur clumped around her hooves - she was of thin body condition and had severely overgrown hooves which had curled and twisted.”

Read more: Ban for Bishop Auckland couple after RSPCA horse neglect case

Inspector Fannon described how six Shetland ponies were found standing on two feet of muck and mud - they had no fresh water and no fresh hay.

Another two Shetland ponies were found in a plastic greenhouse which was not easily accessible - officers had to climb over rubble and mud to reach them. They both had overgrown hooves and a piebald female was in thin body condition.  

The Northern Echo: One horse was stuck inside a nailed-shut hutOne horse was stuck inside a nailed-shut hut

Several of the horses had to be dug out by officers from their stables. One stable door was found nailed shut and a crow bar was needed to prise it open. 

Again, the stable was full of faeces and mud up to the knee and there was no hay or water inside.  Inside a piebald male horse had severely overgrown, curled hooves.

Another Shetland pony was found inside a horsebox with faeces and muck. She was in thin body condition and in a suffering state due to lameness and osteoarthritis in her shoulders. 

Despite advising the couple a year earlier that they could not keep horses at the site during winter due to the extreme muddy conditions, no improvements had been made since the previous year apart from a makeshift area of uneven cobble bricks that had been put down which the horses could not stand on.

All of the horses were examined by a vet before being taken to a place of safety in the RSPCA’s care.

The Northern Echo: Officers were shocked by the squalid conditions Officers were shocked by the squalid conditions

In total, 12 equines were caused to suffer by the pair’s failure to provide farrier treatment for their overgrown hooves. Ten equines were also caused to suffer by Metcalf and Clark failing to provide adequate nutrition for their animals.

In addition to the lifetime disqualification from keeping all animals which Metcalf can not contest for 10 years, he was sentenced to 18-weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £750 costs. 

Clark was banned from keeping all animals for 10 years which she cannot contest for 10 years and was ordered to pay £180 fine and £750 costs.

Following the sentencing hearing, Inspector Fannon said: “This is the worst horse case I have been involved with during my career with the RSPCA. 

"I offered to help Mr Metcalf on numerous occasions and none has been taken up.  He knowingly kept horses hidden in these conditions for a long period of time. I am pleased we have since been able to find many of the horses new homes.”

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