A County Durham couple have been banned from keeping animals for five years after leaving their pony in a lice-riddled state in a bare, snow-covered field with mouldy hay and frozen water.

Andrew Allen and Siobhan Barker, of Boltsburn Crescent in Rookhope, were handed the sentence at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court last Wednesday (11 October) following an RSPCA prosecution.

They had each admitted three offences at an earlier hearing.

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Magistrates heard how underweight Piebald cob Pluto was found with lice, rain scald and overgrown hooves in a barren field in Rookhope on  January 20 this year following a visit by RSPCA inspector Lucy Green and an officer from equine charity World Horse Welfare.

The pony had pungent, mouldy hay to eat and a bucket of water which had frozen in the icy conditions. 

The Northern Echo: Pluto the pony before it was taken into carePluto the pony before it was taken into care (Image: RSPCA)

The officers - concerned for Pluto’s welfare - asked a vet to attend who confirmed the cob was underweight and suffering.

Magistrates heard how Barker then arrived on the scene and started shouting obscenities.

The Northern Echo: The conditions that Pluto was kept inThe conditions that Pluto was kept in (Image: RSPCA)

Allen appeared a short time later, but both of them refused to let anyone enter the field to examine the pony further, saying there was nothing wrong with him. 

The police were called and took Pluto into their possession. 

The Northern Echo: The frozen water that Pluto had to drinkThe frozen water that Pluto had to drink (Image: RSPCA)

Allen then chased the pony around the field to prevent him from being caught, but the cob was eventually loaded into a horse box.     

The vet who examined Pluto on site said in her evidence: “The pony was kept alone in a small paddock, it was bare and snow-covered on the day of the visit.

The Northern Echo: Pluto before being taken into RSPCA carePluto before being taken into RSPCA care (Image: RSPCA)

"The water was frozen and poor quality mouldy hay was available in the shelter.

"On examination, Pluto had a body condition score of 1.5/5 meaning he was underweight with bony prominences throughout the neck, back and hips due to little fat cover.

The Northern Echo: Pluto is now in the care of RSPCAPluto is now in the care of RSPCA (Image: RSPCA)

"The coat was very thick, lice were present and there was some rain scald on the pony's back.”

Blood tests were later taken which revealed evidence of anaemia, chronic inflammation, low protein and possibly muscle disease. Parasitology results also showed encysted redworm and tapeworm.

“In my opinion, this pony was suffering from malnourishment due to inadequate feed and high parasite burden,” added the vet. “Horses are herd animals and being kept in isolation can have a negative psychological impact, therefore this pony was likely suffering from being kept alone.”  

The court heard how the animal welfare organisations had had previous dealings with the defendants and had warned them about Pluto’s lice and weight after a previous veterinary examination.

The Northern Echo: Pluto with another pony in the care of the RSPCAPluto with another pony in the care of the RSPCA (Image: RSPCA)

Allen was given an 18-month conditional discharge and Barker a community order, to include 100 hours of unpaid work. Both of them were also told to pay £600 each in costs.

In mitigation, the couple said their health and lack of ability and finances had contributed to the situation.  

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Pluto, who was signed over by the defendants at an earlier hearing,  was taken to an RSPCA animal centre and has made a good recovery and will be rehomed by the charity.

Speaking after the sentencing hearing, Inspector Green said: “Pluto’s most basic needs were not being met and he was in a very poor state of neglect.

"He’s got a lovely temperament and has integrated well with other ponies in our care - the staff at the animal centre adore him.

"We’d like to thank our colleagues at World Horse Welfare for their support and assistance with this investigation which has helped to ensure a much brighter future for Pluto.”