Man jailed for leaving horse to die slowly from ragwort poisoning


A man who admitted letting his horse die slowly from ragwort poisoning has been jailed for 12 weeks. 

Ronald Wheeler from Liverpool admitted three charges of causing unnecessary suffering to his dark bay cob Oscar at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court.

The court heard how Wheeler had left Oscar grazing in a field in Fazakerley which contained the poisonous weed ragwort – which is deadly to horses – despite being told by Liverpool City Council to remove it.  

The RSPCA were called to the field on 6 August last year after receiving reports from members of the public who were concerned about the horse’s welfare.

When inspector Joanne MacDonald arrived at the scene with a veterinary surgeon they could see the horse was staggering around and collapsing. They realised he was blind, was struggling to stand and was unable to swallow.

The vet decided Oscar needed to be put to sleep to end his suffering and a subsequent post mortem confirmed he had been poisoned by ragwort after being exposed to it for many weeks or even months. 

The vet also described Oscar as having a body score of 2 out of 9, and also revealed a significant worm burden.

The court heard two months before, on 15 June, the council had sent a letter to Wheeler urging him to remove the weed which in some places had grown to three feet tall. 

As well as being jailed at Friday’s hearing (2 August)  Wheeler was also ordered to pay £786 costs and a £115 victim surcharge. He was also banned from keeping equines for 10 years.

Inspector MacDonald said: “It was an awful case to deal with as poor Oscar was clearly suffering. He was collapsing and the ragworth had caused his blindness which meant he was walking into things and was clearly in a distressed state.

“To make matters worse Wheeler had been told previously to remove the ragwort by the council but he had failed to do this.

“Responsible horse owners should know ragwort is damaging to the horse’s liver when eaten. The toxic effect builds up over time, causing irreparable damage.”

More RSPCA information about poisoning in equines is available on the RSPCA website.

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here