Horses and ponies 'beaten' after break-in at Northern Ireland riding centre for the disabled
Horses and ponies have been left traumatised after reportedly being beaten by youths at a riding centre for the disabled in Maghera.
The Fort Centre, a member of Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA NI), was established in 1978 and offers people with varying degrees of disability an opportunity to take part in riding programmes.
The centre said padlocks on the gates were broken over the weekend and they suspected that rope had been put around the horses necks.
This is not the first time this has happened and previously a horse was stabbed.
Volunteer instructor Noeleen O'Hagan said the animals have been traumatised.
She told the Belfast Telegraph that they had gone to check on the horses in the field and found that the padlock had been broken.
Noeleen said: "The youths had busted the lock and there were clear visible marks on the horses where they had beat them.
"On one of the horses there were cuts around his face and they obviously had put ropes around their necks because there is marks from the blue rope."
Noeleen says they are at a loss as to the reasoning behind the incident.
She said: "We have no idea why they are doing this - we are a voluntary service.
"We provide riding lessons for children and adults with disabilities of all ranges. It's all free and everything we do is because of the volunteers and they are destroying it for everyone else."
The centre has eight horses and ponies which will all be assessed tonight (Monday) to see if they can be used again because they have been left so traumatised by the incident.
She said: "Some might be ok. We have rides booked this evening but if we feel that the pony is too scared or not able to do it, we will have to send them home.
"And for quite a few this is the only time they have any enjoyment out of the house - it's the highlight of the week.
"It's just mind-blowing that people can do this to defenceless animals , horses aren't doing anything to anybody."
Police have been notified about the incident.
The centre has been urged to get CCTV but said they don't have the finances for this - as they are not government funded.
She said: "We are a voluntary group and we don't get any government help.
"Everything we do is through donations."
The horses have been left so distressed they won't go near the volunteers at the moment.
Noeleen hopes that the horses will be able to be used again as their horses are specially picked for what they need them to do.
She said: "They stood back from us and were scared.
"We'll try our best to make sure they are happy and will eventually come back into work - it takes time.
"We had a horse stabbed before and he was never fit to use again and we had to find him a forever home."
Posting on their Facebook page the centre said: "Now we have the task of working with these animals who are scared of everything we are totally beside ourselves with how to cope with this.
"Please anyone with information come forward."
A PSNI spokesman said officers in Magherafelt received a report that a number of horses had been let loose from a field in the Craigmore Road area of Maghera.
Officers are due to meet with the animals' owner this week to discuss the matter and are working to establish what caused the injuries to the horses.