A horse rescue charity has expressed dismay that the person involved in what has been described as one of Spain’s largest ever animal abuse cases has avoided going to trial, writes Mike Dunne.

Easy Horse Care Rescue Centre, located near the coastal city of Alicante, took care of 14 horses seized by police after they were found living in squalid conditions in 2014. A Malaga-based donkey refuge, El Refugio del Burrito, accepted 9 donkeys involved in the seizure. All of the animals were malnourished and filthy and some were near to death when they were rescued.

The case against the owner was taken by El Refugio del Burrito and was supported by EHCRC. The original case was closed without prosecution, but the donkey charity engaged a specialist animal lawyer who reactivated proceedings. Just a day before the case was due to go to court lawyers called a meeting in which the man at the centre of the case agreed to legally grant ownership of the horses and donkeys to the two charities concerned.

As part of the agreement, which was formally signed off by the courts last Friday, the man received a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also banned from owning equines or trading in animals for three years.

In a statement issued today, Sue Weeding, co-founder of EHCRC, said that a huge opportunity had been lost in the battle against animal abuse. “We had hoped this man would receive some sort of fine. He’s cost so many people so much time and money, not to mention the suffering he inflicted upon these animals, and now he gets off almost scot-free. This court case would have set precedence across Spain. What kind of message does this send to animal abusers?”

It was claimed that the owner had gone bankrupt, which prevented him from being able to properly provide for the animals. It is believed the man is elderly and unwell and that the plea bargain was made in an attempt to reduce stress on him.

The costs involved in caring for the horses have amounted to €66,000, the charity outlined in its evidence.

“We will care for them for the rest of their lives, but to do that we have to fund them – it seems ridiculous that the owner does not have to pay a single cent'”, Mrs Weeding said.

Twelve of the 14 rescued horses continue to reside at EHCRC – one died shortly after her rescue but not before giving birth to a foal who remains at the centre. A second horse died of old age last December.