A woman from Adelaide’s northern suburbs who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges relating to four horses and a pony escaped conviction in the Elizabeth Magistrates Court, but was ordered to pay RSPCA South Australia $21,134 towards the costs the charity incurred in caring for the animals.
The defendant was also ordered to pay $2000 in legal costs. (RSPCA SA had sought $42,268 the organisation has paid out to external service providers for veterinary care, feed and agistment along with $3000 in legal fees.) When taken into RSPCA SA’s care in March 2021, the animals were underweight and had swallowed large quantities of sand.
One horse, a Clydesdale cross stallion named Buckey, had developed colic from ingesting sand and required urgent veterinary treatment and hospitalisation.
Buckey, together with a mare named Alice and a colt named Bodi, was also suffering from chronic scouring (diarrhoea) as a consequence of having a significant gastrointestinal sand load.
An RSPCA South Australia inspector first attended at the defendant’s property near Gawler on 28 February 2021 in response to a report of thin horses in yards with inadequate feed, and one horse rolling on the ground (a potential sign of colic).
The defendant was not present, but the inspector spoke with the woman’s former partner and issued an Animal Welfare Notice that required two mares with scouring to be seen by a vet within 24 hours. The defendant complied with this notice, but two weeks later (14 March 2021) RSPCA received a further report of horses at the property being without food or water.
An RSPCA inspector again attended and observed a total of eight horses on the property. Four of the horses were emaciated and none had access to water. All the horses drank readily when offered water. On the request of RSPCA, an equine vet came to the property later that day to examine the horses of greatest concern.
She later provided a report in which she said inadequate feeding had occurred over a minimum period of two months. As a consequence of scavenging for food on barren ground, all the horses had high gastrointestinal sand accumulations and some had scouring.
Without proper nutrition and treatment for the sand accumulation, the vet warned that all of the horses were at significant and imminent risk of colic. On the basis of this advice, RSPCA seized five horses – seven-year-old stallion Buckey, sixyear-old mare Alice, five-month-old colt Bodi, a nine-year-old Standardbred mare named Yurei and a six-year-old Welsh pony called Max.
Buckey, Alice and Bodi remain in RSPCA care, while Yurei was reclaimed by her owner (not the defendant) and Max was rehomed. The defendant refused to surrender the three horses in RSPCA care, meaning the charity was unable to rehome the animals and instead had to cover their care costs for more than a year.
These have included substantial veterinary bills. The defendant’s legal counsel, Martin Hynes, provided the court with a psychologist’s report that diagnosed the defendant with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and told the court that this was the main factor behind the horses’ chronic neglect. RSPCA SA legal counsel Jillian Smith submitted that the defendant’s untreated PTSD, the fact she is a single parent with three children in her care and has a limited income, posed an unacceptable risk that – if further situations of crisis occur – the defendant would again not cope with the additional responsibility of her horses’ care.
Due to these concerns, Ms Smith sought an order prohibiting the defendant from acquiring more horses, until further order. Magistrate David White imposed an 18-month good behaviour bond, without conviction, and prohibited the defendant from acquiring more horses for 18-months.
His Honour ordered that the three horses in RSPCA care be returned to the defendant, with their ongoing care supervised by RSPCA for 18-months. The horses will be kept at a property in Adelaide’s north that is owned by a vet. The defendant is employed by the vet as a veterinary nurse and works at the property where she attends daily.