'Appalling': SPCA prosecutes trainer for starving her horses

Horse 'Karma' had to be humanely euthanised, said the SPCA.
Horse 'Karma' had to be humanely euthanised, said the SPCA. Photo credit: Supplied

A Christchurch horse owner and trainer has been prosecuted by the SPCA for recklessly ill-treating four horses.

Lisa Corfield, who had earlier pleaded guilty to four charges, was sentenced in the Christchurch District Court to 250 hours' community work, ordered to pay $300 towards legal costs and $7,046.08 in reparations. 

She was also disqualified from owning horses for 10 years and forced to surrender her seven other horses to the SPCA. 

In a statement, the SPCA said the case began in March 2017, when SPCA inspectors responded to an animal welfare complaint about nine horses belonging to the defendant.  

It said Corfield was already known to SPCA, as there had been a number of complaints and welfare issues identified as far back as 2013.

Despite intensive care from SPCA, Sophie died five months later.
Despite intensive care from SPCA, Sophie died five months later. Photo credit: Supplied

"The grass in the horses' paddocks was so low that there was no grazeable grass, and 30 percent of the grass surface was contaminated with faeces. There was no evidence of additional feed supply," it said.

Of the nine horses, four were assessed to be in emaciated body condition, and two were assessed to be in thin body condition.  

Due to the immediate concern for the horses and lack of food, a veterinarian was called in to examine the horses and hay was fed out.

A notice was left requesting urgent contact from the defendant, but no contact was received, and SPCA consequently seized all nine horses.

The veterinarian assessed the four horses - Karma, Sophie, Angel and Diamond - as having a body condition score of 0 out of 5 - extremely emaciated. 

The vet said reaching this body condition would likely have taken many weeks in an otherwise healthy animal, during which the weight loss would have been obvious. "Due to the chronicity of this weight loss, the horses would have prolonged physical and mental suffering."

"Karma fell down in the truck after being loaded and required urgent veterinary treatment. She was given a multivitamin, iron and folic acid injection, but two days later, she was found in her stall unable to get up.  Despite treatment and attempts to lift her, she was too weak to stand, and had to be humanely euthanised," said the SPCA.

It said blood tests and clinical signs revealed Karma was likely suffering from 'refeeding syndrome', a condition seen 3-7 days following introduction of food to a severely emaciated animal. 

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen described the case as appalling.
SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen described the case as appalling. Photo credit: Newshub

However, it was also possible that it was a result of severe emaciation.

"Even after intensive care from SPCA, five months later, Sophie was found dead in her stall overnight.  A post-mortem found that she had an underlying parasitic burden due to being starved and underweight, which made her immune systems more susceptible to parasitism, infection, and disease."

"When interviewed, the defendant said that Karma and Sophie had been leased to someone from mid-January 2017 and that she had got them back four days before SPCA became involved. " 

However, she refused to tell the inspectors who the horses had been leased to, and that it was a verbal agreement and no contract had been signed.

She said she checked the horses daily and was feeding out hay, despite no evidence of any hay remnants.  She acknowledged that she could have prevented them dropping in condition by getting rid of some of the horses before it happened, and that she didn't think they had enough feed.

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen said it was a tragic case.

"These beautiful horses suffered for an intolerably long time, living with the mental and physical anguish of being starved," she said.

 "Looking after a horse or pony is a big responsibility as they have complex needs.  They need high fibre pasture to eat as an absolute minimum.  To have so many in your care, and not provide for their basic needs is appalling."

Under the care of SPCA's animal care team, the remaining horses were put on a veterinary-led feeding plan, and gradually regained weight.  

From there they were transferred out to foster homes.