On the surface, one young woman appeared to be an exemplary equestrian. She exercised her horse regularly, for instance, and her selfies with the animal seemed to suggest she cared for him. And it was only when certain photographs of the pair appeared on social media that people eventually noticed the immense suffering that the horse had endured.
That young woman, moreover, was Charlotte McPherson, who comes from the town of Kidderminster in central England. The 22-year-old was a keen equestrian and owned a ten-year-old former racehorse called Thor, whom she would ride twice a week. When she wasn’t with Thor, though, she kept the thoroughbred at stables in the nearby hamlet of Stourton.
And as well as those bi-weekly rides, McPherson and Thor also participated in organized equestrian events. In spring 2016, for example, they attended a nearby fun ride hosted by the Bissell Wood Equestrian Centre. The course for the center’s rides are usually about seven miles in length and pass through the local countryside.
What’s more, the entry fee for the Bissell Wood ride also covered a veterinary check-up for the animals participating. So, before the event got underway, an experienced vet went around the horses involved to assess their health and readiness for the course. When he got to McPherson and Thor, though, it was hard for the animal expert to make any detailed evaluation.
That was because McPherson had covered her steed’s hindquarters with an exercise sheet. Horse riders usually use this blanket-like piece of material to help keep their animals warm. In this case, however, the sheet had also served another purpose: to make it difficult for anyone to see the full extent of Thor’s pitiful physical condition.
And, indeed, the offending cover raised the suspicions of the event’s organizer, 74-year-old Neville Cope. “She hid the rib cage of the horse by putting a blanket over it,” he said in a statement obtained by The Daily Telegraph. “We have a vet who goes around especially to make sure they’re all okay. But the rug on [Thor] meant [that] they couldn’t see [his condition].”
But although Cope and others at the event were concerned about what lay beneath Thor’s exercise sheet, McPherson nevertheless completed the ride. A photographer even snapped pictures of her and her horse as they made their way around the course. When the resulting images later appeared on Facebook, however, they caused outrage.
In fact, as a result of what they had seen online, many people reported McPherson to animal welfare charities. Then, upon further investigation, some animal lovers came across a shocking selfie that the rider had taken with Thor. And it was only then that the true extent of the animal’s suffering came to light.
That particular image appeared to show a carefree McPherson smiling happily as she led Thor out of his stable. However, with nothing covering the animal’s body in the shot, it was clear to see that the horse was extremely thin. Indeed, the shape of his entire rib cage is shown protruding alarmingly underneath his skin.
Then the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) picked up on the harrowing case. And when Suzi Smith, an inspector with the leading U.K. animal welfare charity, first set eyes on Thor, the animal’s terrible condition appalled her. “Thor looked incredibly thin and you could see pretty much every bone in his body,” The Daily Telegraph quoted Smith as saying.
And Smith wasted no time in getting Thor to a safe place and arranging a thorough health check for him. “It was obvious to anyone who saw him that he was not well,” Smith continued in her statement. “A vet examined Thor and gave him a body condition of zero out of five – he was that thin.”
Smith added, “While in this body condition, McPherson rode him twice a week.” She further elaborated, “Not only was he thin, but he [also] had a sore on his spine which was directly underneath the saddle. Thor would have been in a lot of pain while he was being ridden.”
And after an in-depth examination, RSPCA vets concluded that a high worm egg count had caused Thor’s weight loss. This can occur when an animal has not been wormed properly. However, now that its experts had determined the cause of the horse’s condition, the organization could help Thor get better.
Meanwhile, authorities charged McPherson with causing unnecessary suffering and failing to protect a horse from pain, suffering, injury and disease. And at a hearing at Birmingham Magistrates Court in August 2016, McPherson pleaded guilty to the offenses. All she could do from then on was await her sentencing in December that year.
Then, at the second hearing, magistrates ordered McPherson to carry out 160 hours of unpaid community service. They also fined her £300 – or $395 – in trial costs as well as a £60, or $79, victim surcharge. Furthermore, the court banned McPherson from owning horses for ten years.
And the way in which the magistrates had dealt with McPherson’s negligent behavior was welcomed by fun ride organizer Cope. “I’m over the moon that she has now been seriously penalized because I was appalled by it,” the Bissell Wood veteran said to The Daily Telegraph. “I’ve been involved in horses all my life, and never ever have I seen a horse in as bad a state as this. I was absolutely disgusted.”
Cope continued, “When she got back from the ride and took the rug off, we were all so appalled by it. I’m delighted by the justice which has been dealt, and quite right, too.” He added by way of explanation, “We have a vet to make sure all the horses were alright, but unfortunately we missed it.”
Meanwhile, with the help of the RSPCA, Thor was able to put his unhappy past behind him. “It was a slow progress to get him on the road to recovery, as he would not have survived a wormer straightaway due to the condition he was in,” Inspector Smith explained in a press release. “But within five months he had put on weight and been properly wormed, where he soon showed that he had a zero worm egg count.”
Smith added, “We are so thankful to the Retraining of Racehorses charity who assisted with the veterinary costs in this case, and also to everyone in ‘Team Thor’ who provided the care and attention he needed.” But the good news about the resurgent Thor did not end there.
“Thor has done amazingly well and he has now been re-homed,” Smith revealed at the end of her December 2016 press statement. “He is loving his new life, and when he trots across a field, you would find it hard to believe what he was like earlier this year.”