A man from Barnstaple has been jailed for six weeks for cruelty to a horse and three ponies.

Ben Neill, 37, of no fixed abode, was also handed a lifetime ban from keeping equines.

Neill was sentenced on May 3 at Barnstaple Magistrates' Court for causing unnecessary suffering to a horse and a pony, and failing to meet the needs of three ponies.

Inspector Claire Ryder launched an investigation after the RSPCA received a call last March from a member of the public who had seen a horse collapsed in a muddy field in Landkey near Barnstaple.

A vet who attended described how she found the horse, a chestnut gelding called Eddy, in a 'terrible state', unable to lift his head from the mud he was lying in, let alone stand.

In her witness statement, Inspector Ryder said: "His hip bones were protruding and you could clearly see his spine and ribs.

"The horse was lying in deep wet mud. You could clearly see where he was trying to get up as there was a build up of wet mud around the horse's head, neck and back."

In her report to the court, the vet said she thought Eddy had been down for some time as she was unable to get him up on his feet.

He was euthanised on welfare grounds to end his suffering.

A further three ponies - a bay gelding called Tye, a mare called Darcy and another bay gelding called Dorcas - were in a field next to Eddy that was very muddy with limited grazing.

They had no accessible shelter and the only water source was a stream running along the bottom of a steep bank in the corner of their field.

Tye was in poor body condition, he had severely overgrown hooves and was lame in his front feet.

He had difficulty walking, with a rocking motion as his hooves met the ground.

The vet concluded Tye was suffering and Darcy and Dorcus were likely to suffer.

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All three ponies were found to have lice in their coats, parasites and their teeth were in need of attention due to sharp enamel points.

They all required sedation before their hooves could be trimmed.

The veterinary evidence heard in court concluded: "Regardless of cause, veterinary intervention should have been sought for Eddy when faced with such extensive weight loss.

"Suffering unquestionably could have been prevented had they sought advice sooner.

"I have no doubt that Eddy and Tye were suffering unreasonably and unnecessarily and that this suffering had been present for at least a month.

"Suffering unquestionably could have been prevented had they sought advice sooner."

In mitigation, their owner told magistrates that Eddy had been "jumping and bouncing around that morning".

Neill was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison and was banned from keeping horses for the rest of his life.

South West Farmer: Darcy with one of her new friendsDarcy with one of her new friends

A second person was sentenced last November for causing unnecessary suffering to Tye and for failing to meet the needs of Tye, Darcy and Dorcus.

She was disqualified from keeping equines for 10 years and sentenced to a six-month curfew and was ordered to pay £400 costs.

Sadly, Dorcus was later put to sleep due to the discovery of untreatable tumours.

Tye and Darcy were both rehomed and have settled into their new lives with The Hugs Foundation - an equine rescue charity in Bodmin that offer therapeutic interventions to children, young people, the elderly, military personnel and veterans to increase health and well-being.

Darcy enjoys being brushed and led by children who visit the charity and Tye is currently on loan as part of their foster scheme and is loving life being spoiled with love and care.