Pretty Man was a plump white pony in the forefront of a sad picture. The photograph showed the seizure by the RSPCA of 123 horses from a farm down the road from where I live. The picture came to summarise many aspects of a story that exploded on to social media and released so many emotions among the public, especially horse-lovers.
A plump white pony is standing defiantly in the middle of a herd of muddy horses being rounded up and loaded on to lorries to be taken away. Later it emerged that the pony wouldn’t load. He refused to get on the lorry. It took most of the day to get the horses on board and the ones who went on first had to stand on the lorries for hours. The plump white pony was the last to go up the ramp. He protested to the last moment.
He didn’t know his home was a mess. He may have been standing in a muddy field eating hay from bent and broken hay-holders. But his opinion, for what it was worth, was that he didn’t want to leave.
The farmer was going blind, his partner had cancer. The farm was falling to pieces around them. Pretty Man was one of the family’s ponies, not the dealer horses that made up the majority of the herd that was seized. He was one of six ponies the farmer and his girlfriend insisted were the children’s pets.
The vet report soon after seizure judged Pretty Man to be healthy in every way. Well fed, in good condition, no worms, good feet, good teeth: nothing wrong with him, apart from being ‘overweight’. None of the criminal charges brought against the farmer related to him.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, which had begun but was postponed due to Covid and is now getting under way again, the horses are the silent party. They do not have their own lawyer, so while a barrister defends the farmer, and another barrister prosecutes for the RSPCA, the missing link is how the horses themselves might feel about being confiscated, because we know that horses do have keen senses, and great sensitivity about any change to their surroundings and routine. It is especially hard for them to be separated from their field mates and sent to different places.
When I wrote about them on my Facebook page, people all over Surrey inundated me with demands for more information about the white pony. Some of them said they had rung the RSPCA asking if they could adopt him. Even those who supported him being rescued from the ramshackle farm said the pony was clearly in good nick.
It’s been hard to keep track of things since. A horse called Milo, who was photographed galloping down the field on the day of the raid, was three months later confirmed to be dead. When enquiries were made about him, the reply from the RSPCA came back simply: ‘IM22 has been euthanased.’ They still won’t say why, except that it was ‘due to his condition’. I kept asking after Pretty Man, or IM65 as he is numbered. This week the charity came back to me incongruously referring to him as ‘Hendrix’.
That’s not his name, I said.
I went through the paperwork I had got hold of after the seizure. I found IM65’s vet report from January last year and in very small print it described him as ‘Hendricks’. They had renamed him straight away. And they had his passport, which in fact calls him Barney, if they had wanted to check.
I can’t adequately describe why this upsets me so much. I have emailed the RSPCA repeatedly, telling them of their mistake. They insist the pony in the picture numbered IM65 is called ‘Hendrix’ by staff. They can’t even seem to decide how to spell the name they have given him. He was ‘difficult’, they said. ‘We — and the other charities who are looking after the horses in this case — have been working very hard to rehabilitate all of them.’
I read the vet report again. They had him down as a four-year-old. From the picture he looked to be a mature pony. I rang the family and they were adamant he was born on the farm 14 years ago and passported ‘Barney’ but nicknamed ‘Pretty Man’ by the children. And he most definitely answered to ‘Pretty Man’ or ‘Pretty’.
‘Just to be clear, we have never said the horse IM65 is Barney or Pretty Man,’ said the RSPCA. But we are talking about the pony in the picture, I wanted to scream. That’s Pretty Man!
In its statement, the RSPCA admitted 17 of the horses have now been put down. Every time I ask, the figure goes up. One way or another, the horses become numbers.