A south Wales man – part of a family believed to own up to 2500 horses across Wales and western England – has been found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering and failing to meet the needs of 27 horses.
The verdict came a month after his two sons admitted offences relating to the same group of equines.
Thomas Tony Price of Wick, Vale of Glamorgan, was found guilty of a total of 57 offences at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court.
His eldest son, Thomas Hope Price, of Rover Way, Cardiff, had admitted 42 charges, including causing unnecessary suffering to 18 horses, at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court on May 8. The remaining charges involved failing to meet the welfare needs of these and a further nine horses by either failing to address their weight loss, protect them from injury, pain or disease or failing to ensure they had clean and hazard-free environments with dry lying areas.
A second son, Tony John Price, also of Rover Way, Cardiff, admitted failing to meet the welfare needs of a piebald cob colt by failing to explore and address his weight loss and failing to meet the welfare needs of a piebald filly on May 8.
The father was the director of a business known as Glamorgan Horse Traders, and Thomas Price was listed as secretary of the same business which deals in horses across Britain, Europe and North America.
The offences related to 27 Gypsy-cob-type ponies which were removed from five different locations across the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend between February and March 2012.
Sixteen of the horses were chipped and further investigations identified a link to Thomas Price Senior. Twelve of the horses were found locked in a barn with no space or access to food or water. They were very underweight and suffering from various untreated conditions.
The Prices are thought to own around 2500 horses which are kept at various locations throughout Wales and the west of England.
The RSPCA and other charities had previously advised them to keep the numbers down and manage breeding as the family could not guarantee the care arrangements of most of the animals and, since around 2011, problems developed with stray horses and “fly grazing” in the Glamorgan area.
Price Senior maintained that he had relinquished ownership of his horses to Thomas in January 2012. However, in separate civil proceedings, in which he is claiming compensation for 33 horses, he produced a bill of sale which was dated after he apparently transferred ownership to his son.
RSPCA Inspector Christine McNeil said: “These horses turned out to be the most poorly and diseased horses I have come across. It is my belief that the 12 in the barn had been left there to die.
“These horses were suffering but there are hundreds of other horses across Wales and England which may not be suffering but are just being left to illegally graze and indiscriminately breed. It really is a massive problem that we struggle to deal with day after day.
“We worked closely with Bridgend County Council throughout this case and their assistance was pivotal in securing today’s result.”
Sentencing in the Price case has been set for July 5 at Cardiff Magistrates Court.
The head of welfare for the equine charity Redwings, Nic de Brauwere, expressed relief at the verdict.
De Brauwere, a veterinarian who was a witness for the prosecution during the case, said: “We have always been concerned that one enterprise can have such a large number of horses and realistically expect to meet all their needs when it’s so difficult to know which animals they are actually responsible for.
“In this case it was just not about helping the horses in such desperate need but the evidence also enabled legal action to be taken against people who should have done so much more for their animals.
“The suffering caused to these horses was simply unacceptable. Our biggest concern now, however, is what will happen to any remaining horses in their care.”
The British RSPCA said the case highlighted the enormous problems faced by welfare charities and the government, with irresponsible horse ownership across Wales and England.
The RSPCA received 25,972 equine-related complaints in 2012. In the first five months of this year, 12,210 complaints had already been received.
World Horse Welfare investigated 22 per cent more horse-related complaints in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 2012, and The British Horse Society (BHS) has seen welfare complaints increase by 50 per cent for the same period.
The figures are revealed in the report, “On the Verge – in the grip of a continuing equine crisis”, which has just been released. The report reveals that the number of horses deemed at risk of needing rescue or new homes is now around 7000 – a rise of 1000 in just six months.
The RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, Redwings, HorseWorld, the BHS and Blue Cross are working closely with local authorities, the Welsh Government and police to deal with the issue of irresponsible breeding and ownership in the area.
The RSPCA admitted 760 equines to its care in 2012, the vast majority of which are cared for in private facilities at an average cost of £15 per animal per day as the organisation has just 120 spaces in its own equine centres. World Horse Welfare admitted 40 per cent more horses from January to March this year compared to the same period in 2012.
Redwings and Blue Cross have been working at capacity, with Redwings having 1300 horses in their care and still finding room for the extra 100 they have taken in this year. The British Horse Society has reported a significant rise in welfare complaints.
World Horse Welfare chie executive Roly Owers said: “The welfare charities simply do not have the resources to take in all of these poorly treated horses and pick up the pieces from indiscriminate breeding.
“We need tougher laws that can give authorities power to address aggressive and cruel fly grazing and make owners accountable for their animals.”
The charities want the British Government to:
- Amend the current Animals Act to give land owners and local authorities more scope to act quickly to address fly grazing. Wales is currently undertaking a consultation on ways to tackle fly grazing.
- Introduce criminal legislation to penalise aggressive fly grazers and act as a deterrent.
- As part of the review of the current horse passport laws, require mandatory microchipping of all horses to better link them to owners to improve accountability.
- Enforce these laws robustly in problem areas, and move the burden of proof of ownership from the authorities to the owner.
- Increase intelligence-led enforcement of horse imports and exports.
- Encourage responsible breeding through guidance and the facts on the unprofitability of the lower end of the horse market, as well as advice on when not to breed from unhealthy horses.
The charities say the horse-owning public can play an important part in rehoming horses and ponies, or by supporting horse welfare charities.