Gallop Stable on trial for animal cruelty

The emaciated 17-year-old chestnut thoroughbred mare named Sharpy, was found lying down and in a poor condition.
The emaciated 17-year-old chestnut thoroughbred mare named Sharpy, was found lying down and in a poor condition. PHOTO: AVA

Vets: Horse had problems eating, drinking and leg wounds were not properly tended to

A government veterinarian who checked on a horse at Gallop Stable's Pasir Ris ranch three years ago saw it drink water non-stop for two minutes and eat continuously for up to half an hour - something she had never seen before.

The emaciated 17-year-old chestnut thoroughbred mare's left hind leg was inflamed, its right hind leg was severely swollen and infected, and flies were in its tearing eyes.

The next day, another vet taught stable staff to wash the horse's wounds twice a day. But just three days later, she had to use forceps to remove maggots burrowed deep in a wound - something that would not have happened had her instructions been followed.

These details emerged during Gallop Stable's trial for animal cruelty yesterday. The company, which made the news when one of the horses at its Punggol ranch crushed and killed a rider last year, is denying its single charge.

A district court heard that veterinarian Wendy Toh was at the Pasir Ris ranch on May 15, 2013, for a visit when she saw the horse lying down. It failed to react to her presence and was bobbing its head to get rid of the flies.

Its right hind leg was about three times the size of a normal leg and it looked to be in obvious pain. There was also faeces in the background.

"I really feel sorry for the horse," said Dr Toh, who was working for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

The horse was helped to its feet with some effort and given water, which it drank with its mouth, instead of lapping at it as horses normally do. It also ate up the hay that was given to it.

The next morning, Dr Phyllis Yew, a vet in private practice, found it lying down with a fever. There were pus-filled sores covering about 85 per cent of its lower right hind leg, which was very swollen. These would have developed up to eight days before her visit, she said. In some areas, the skin had peeled away, leaving open sores. The horse, named Sharpy, also had conjunctivitis and its eyelids were swollen.

There were also several wounds on its face as it had been scraping and banging its head against the ground to get up on its weak legs.

Dr Yew prescribed intravenous antibiotics and painkillers, and showed the stable staff how to clean the animal's wounds.

But when she returned three days later, she found maggots in a wound on the horse's right elbow.

The cleaning technique she showed is not complicated.

Meanwhile, Dr Koos van den Berg, head of Singapore Turf Club's (STC) veterinary department, said Sharpy would have suffered considerably due to its condition.

"I would not have hesitated to recommend euthanasia... because of the degree of suffering of the horse and because it would have required considerable commitment in nursing, treatment and management to improve the quality of life of this mare," he told the court.

Based on Dr Toh's and Dr Yew's records and photos, he said the horse had inadequate bedding, feeding, watering and nursing.

Some photos showed a bare concrete ground below Sharpy. Horses need a 15-30cm layer of bedding of material like straw to support their body weight.

He also disagreed with Gallop Stable's lawyer, Mr Simon Tan, who said Sharpy was able to get up on its own on the day Dr Toh first saw it. Photos of the horse's injuries showed it would not have been able to walk without a bad limp, or to even walk at all, the vet said.

The horse, now aged 20, is still with Gallop Stable. The company is expected to begin its defence today. If guilty of cruelty, it could be fined $10,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Gallop Stable on trial for animal cruelty'. Print Edition | Subscribe