A court has imposed a restraining order to protect a retired racehorse from the unwanted attentions of a grandmother who refused to stop feeding him carrots.
In a ruling rarely – if ever – passed by a British court, the horse was afforded legal protection from over-feeding after prosecutors made the application to magistrates on his behalf.
Margaret Porter, 67, from Northallerton Road, Leeming Bar, thought Nelson the chestnut gelding was “sad looking” and came to the view that he was under-fed so began giving him carrots despite being explicitly asked not to by his owner Suzanne Cooke, 50.
What began as a “laudable” effort in Nelson’s interest quickly became a campaign of harassment against him and Mrs Cooke, which saw the police called three times and the RSPCA once.
Mrs Porter was arrested and on Thursday faced court for the second time in her life. The first was in 2005 when she was convicted of assaulting her brother with three sticks of rhubarb in an unrelated family spat.
York magistrates heard the dispute over Nelson’s carrots had become the talk of the village of Scruton, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, with the parish council asked to intervene in the increasingly bitter feud.
Mrs Porter told the court how she first became involved after passing Nelson’s paddock on the edge of the village.
She said: “I saw him standing outside his stables and I thought he looked quite sad.
“I didn’t examine the horse but I noticed him. The fields were frozen at the time and there was snow on the ground. I passed six or seven times a day and didn’t see his owner with him once.
“He looked thin and I began speaking to people about my concerns in the hope someone would take it on board and try and get her to look after the horse properly. I was getting quite distressed about the situation.
“I decided to give him a few carrots at the fence, it never occurred to me that anyone else would be bothered about that, I just didn’t want him starving to death.”
Mrs Porter continued feeding Nelson, which came to Mrs Cooke’s notice when she realised there were dozens of carrot tops lying in his field.
She picked them up in a bucket and took Mrs Porter to task, pointing out that there was a sign on the fence asking people not to feed him.
To her dismay Mrs Porter took no notice and continued to sneak carrots to Nelson, who willingly trotted over to the fence to receive them.
Mrs Cooke told the court: “On February 13th this year I was going to my horse when I saw Mrs Porter’s car parked up. She was throwing food into the field and the horse came over.
“I opened the car window and said “why are you feeding my horse? Do you realise what you are doing? You could poison my horse or give it colic and make it ill.”
“She replied: “you can ring the police, I’m not bothered.”
“I am tired of this happening and worried that she may make my horse ill, I don’t know what she is giving it.”
To her horror an RSPCA inspector then called at her house to tell her he was carrying out a welfare check on Nelson.
The inspector quickly realised that not only was he being well looked after, he was in peak condition having competed three times in professional horse races.
Mrs Cooke was in no doubt who had reported her and had become increasingly angered by Mrs Porter’s gossiping to villagers, which continued despite the RSPCA’s clean bill of health.
Trevor Howe, a parish council stalwart of 40 years, gave evidence to say Mrs Porter began called him around 10 times insisting the horse wasn’t well.
He said: “I did not have any concerns about the horse but she must have rang at least 10 times about its welfare, repeating the fact it was under-fed.”
Mrs Cooke felt she had no option but to call the police and Mrs Porter was eventually arrested, first appearing in court in April when she denied a charge of harassment.
After hearing both sides of the argument on Thursday magistrates found her guilty.
Presiding magistrate Hilary Fairwood said: “In the first instance her conduct could be considered laudable in that she truly believed she was trying to prevent the neglect of the horse.
“However after the RSPCA visit and police intervention she continued despite being explicitly told the RSPCA had no concerns whatsoever.
“Her conduct was not reasonable and we find her guilty of the charge.”
Mrs Fairwood said it was necessary to impose a restraining order for the protection of Nelson.
Addressed to the defendant, it reads: “You must not put food in the field for the horse and must not interfere with the horse in any way.”
Further to that she must not approach Mrs Cooke or attend her home, which is directly across the road from hers.
After the hearing Mrs Porter said: “It all seems to ridiculous to be taken to court for giving a horse a few carrots but at least I got to have my say and they didn’t send me to jail.”
Mrs Cooke said: “I’m very glad the court passed the order to keep her away from Nelson for his sake.
“He’s a thoroughbred horse and he’s very well looked after, exercised and fed, he’s a wonderful horse and very much loved by me and my son.
“This has gone on for a year now and it has caused so much stress and upset for me, it has had the whole village, where I’ve lived very happily for eight years, talking about me.
“She went out to cause as much difficulty as possible for no good reason. It was horrifying to have the RSPCA called out to do a welfare inspection on Nelson, it made me feel terrible.”
In his racing days Nelson was based at Middleham.
His racing name was You’redoingwell, however after three winless races his trainer didn’t agree and he was put out to pasture, being snapped up three years ago by Mrs Cooke.
In March 2005, Northallerton magistrates heard Mrs Porter lost her temper after her estranged brother, William, laughed at her while driving past in his Land Rover in Askrigg, Wensleydale.
She flung three sticks of rhubarb from her cottage window, catching him in the right eye with one of them.
The court ordered Porter to do 40 hours’ community service and barred her from entering property belonging to her son, with whom she had also fallen out.