Woman accused of cruelty says she made ‘minimal contact’ with horse she hit

A former teacher who was seen kicking and slapping a pony has told a court she made “minimal contact” with the animal and that she and her children have received death threats over the incident.

Sarah Moulds “chastised” a grey pony named Bruce Almighty according to prosecutors, after the animal ran into a road in Lincolnshire in November 2021.

The 39-year-old lost her job as a teacher over the incident but denies two animal cruelty offences, claiming her actions were proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.

Giving evidence at Lincoln Crown Court on Wednesday, she said she had intended to “briefly shock” Bruce but denied losing her temper.

She said: “In that moment (Bruce) has done something incredibly dangerous and, in that exact moment, I decided that the right thing to do was discipline him quickly.

“In reality, in that moment, it was four seconds.

“My intention was then, and always was, to discipline Bruce in the moment so that he does not do it again.

“There was minimal contact and it was so quick and so short.”

Moulds told the court that she owns four horses, has ridden them since the age of four and had owned child’s pony Bruce for two-and-a-half years at the time of the incident on November 6 2021.

Bruce, 11 years old at the time and 13 hands high, was being ridden by a child in the Cottesmore Hunt, one of Britain’s oldest foxhound packs, in the vicinity of The Drift, Gunby.

Moulds could be seen to strike Bruce four times in the footage, as well as kick him (RSPCA/PA)
Moulds could be seen to strike Bruce four times in the footage, as well as kick him (RSPCA/PA)

As the horses were being untacked, Bruce was being held by the child before he unexpectedly “took off” and moved about 25 metres down the road.

Moulds instructed the child to let go of Bruce’s lead rope as she believed there were “a number of horrific things” that could have happened had the child attempted to hold on.

Bruce eventually stopped to graze on a grass verge before returning to the horse box and was seen on camera returning to his owners before being chastised by Moulds and being led into a horse box.

He is still owned by Moulds, lives on her property in Somerby, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and has a “wonderfully idyllic” life, she said.

When asked by her barrister, Derek Duffy, whether Bruce showed any reaction to the incident, Moulds said: “None whatsoever. He showed no fear toward me, he followed me into the trailer.

“The next day, he greeted me in exactly the same way he always does.

“Nothing has ever been different.”

Under cross-examination from prosecutor Hazel Stevens, Moulds said she took the “only opportunity” to discipline Bruce as a child’s pony misbehaving could be dangerous for its rider and the animal.

She said: “The purpose was to briefly shock him, to make him think, ‘that was not a good idea to run away from my human’.”

A video of the act was posted to social media by Hertfordshire Hunt Saboteurs, and Moulds was then prosecuted by the RSPCA.

Moulds was sacked by the Mowbray Education Trust, based in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, in December 2021 and charged in January 2022 with two offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Moulds also said that she, her family and Bruce, had not returned to trail hunting due to death threats made to herself and her children.

She said: “I certainly will never strike a horse, discipline a horse, in that manner because my life has been torn to pieces as a result of that four-second decision.”

She said she had to go “into hiding” due to the reaction to the video, but took Bruce to be examined on November 16 2021, with a vet concluding he was “very good and healthy with no signs of internal injuries”.

Earlier on Wednesday, prosecutors had told a jury of 11 men and one woman that Bruce had “suffered physically and mentally” from Moulds’ “unnecessary and counter-productive” actions.

Giving evidence for the prosecution, Dr Suzanne Green, an equine veterinary surgeon, said that Moulds’ actions were “not proportionate, not appropriate and not in response to anything”.

However, she accepted that there was no external evidence of bruising on Bruce and any internal injuries or bruising under his fur would only have been detected through a post-mortem examination.

Likening the blows to the horse being whipped in racing or showjumping, Mr Duffy said: “Horses have pain inflicted on them in many other ways in the course of sports.

“We know that punishment to horses is both routine and permitted in certain settings.”

Dr Green replied: “At no point is hitting your horse in the face done with care.”

But Dr Clive Madeiros, a veterinary surgeon giving evidence for the defence, said Bruce would likely have only felt “transient discomfort” in the incident and that there was “not any hard evidence” that he was in pain.

Moulds denies causing an animal unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and not taking reasonable steps to protect the animal from pain, suffering, injury or disease.

The trial continues.