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Heroic rescue of severely neglected horses remembered by animal sanctuary

Esther was so weak when she was rescued she needed to be carried from the lorry. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Esther was so weak when she was rescued she needed to be carried from the lorry. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

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It was described as “one of the worst cases of neglect” of animals they had ever seen.

Rumpel was an incredibly ill and frightened young cob when he was rescued. Picture: Redwings Horse SanctuaryRumpel was an incredibly ill and frightened young cob when he was rescued. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

But now a Norfolk animal sanctuary is marking the role it played in helping to save a number of horses found living in horrific conditions.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary, near Hapton, responded to an urgent call for help from the RSPCA to rescue more than 100 horses and donkeys in need at Spindle Farm, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in January 2008.

The animals were discovered covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. More than 30 horses who had died were also found in the stables with the other animals.

The team of 32 described it as the “worst case of neglect Redwings’ rescue team had ever seen”.

The animals were discovered in varying states of emaciation, covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. Picture: Redwings Horse SanctuaryThe animals were discovered in varying states of emaciation, covered in lice and suffering from overgrown feet. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

It initially took 21 of the illest and vulnerable equines back to its Horse Hospital at its Norfolk headquarters for immediate treatment.

From then, the charity offered a safe home to 60 horses and donkeys from Spindle Farm, as well as six foals born to rescued mares.

The charity is now remembering the 10th anniversary of the landmark rescue and celebrating the survivors with a special series of activities and events throughout 2018.

Lynn Cutress, Redwings’ chief executive, said: “Amersham was a momentous rescue that not only left a mark on Redwings, but the wider public too.

Esther and mum Martha at Redwings following their rescue in 2008. Picture: Redwings Horse SanctuaryEsther and mum Martha at Redwings following their rescue in 2008. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

“I remember seeing the horses and donkeys as they arrived at Redwings and it wasn’t just their appalling physical state that shocked me, but their eerie quietness and sheer sadness.”

Supporters will be able to purchase exclusive gifts inspired by the Amersham survivors, contribute to a charitable art sale, attend a memorial service and attend meet and greets with some of the horses and donkeys at the centre.

Ms Cutress added: “The rescue saw colleagues from various animal welfare organisations, including Blue Cross, Horse Trust, RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, unite, inspiring numerous multi-agency operations thereafter.

“It’s a testament to the hard work and love of our veterinary, rehabilitation and care teams that, despite their horrific neglect, so many of these horses and donkeys rescued from that terrible place are still enjoying happy lives 10 years on.”

Rumpel the horse in 2017. Picture: Redwings Horse SanctuaryRumpel the horse in 2017. Picture: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

What happened to neglectful owners?

James Gray, the owner of Spindle Farm, was sentenced to six months in prison, plus an additional two months for later not appearing in court. He was ordered to pay costs of £400,000 and banned from keeping horses for life having been charged with nine accounts of causing unnecessary suffering to animals and two charges of failing to protect animals from pain, injury, suffering and disease.

His son, James Gray Jr, was also convicted and sentenced to an 18-month supervision order, while James Gray’s wife, Julie Gray, and two daughters Jodie and Cordelia Gray were also found guilty of two counts of failing to protect animals with each ordered to undertake 150 hours of community service.

The family was banned from keeping horses for 10 years.

This case was the first effective use of powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which enabled the removal of animals from situations where they are suffering.

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