Up to 20 horses were found in appalling conditions in Briarhill, following a complaint to the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health and Welfare unit.
It was only when the Department, assisted by the charity Hungry Horse Outside, entered the 30-acre site near Ballybrit racecourse last month that they realised the full extent of the mistreatment and cruelty.
Seven carcasses were found in the field at varying stages of decay, while the horses that had survived their horrific circumstances were starving, weak and being eaten alive by worms.
The horses that died of starvation had undergone unimaginable pain and suffering.
According to Hilary Robinson – founder of the Longford-based charity that took the live animals into their care – they died the cruellest of deaths.
“To die of starvation is a terrible thing, it’s just desperate. It’s just so horrendous because they fight so hard for their lives; that is just their natural instinct. Can you imagine standing in that weather and the cold all over the Christmas, hungry from one end of the day to the other, searching around for a bit of food?
“Even eating bits of branches, chewing on the timber and, you know, trying to plough the muck – just horrendous,” said Hilary.
On their first attempt to rescue the horses, Ms Robinson and her team took seven horses back to their Newtownforbes base, only filling the lorries to a safe level in the knowledge that the weakness of those rescued would almost certainly mean they would ‘go down’ during transportation.
When they returned, they found that the owner had removed several of the horses from the area before they had a chance to be rescued.
Of the eight horses rescued, only four have survived – three of which are mares and heavily in foal.
She has since had the owner of the horses at her door demanding the horses be given back – the details of which she has passed on to Gardaí.
She described how it is difficult to prove ownership and convict neglectful owners due to non-enforcement of laws surrounding micro-chipping – which has been a legal requirement since 2009 – and called for tighter controls.
“That’s where we come in – prevention is the best the whole way around – education, micro-chipping, and castration, those are the three important things – why breed horses if you don’t have a market,” said Hilary.
The charity is calling on the owner of the land to come forward so they can close it off to prevent a reoccurrence of these horrifying conditions.
“We need to emphasise this, we need the owners of the land to come forward so that we can close it up so that never happens again.
“The reason this one is so bad is the fact that it is Galway City, a very rich and affluent city; it’s beside the racecourse with helicopters flying for racing and things like that and these animals have been starving all winter long,” she said.
An investigation will now be carried out by the Department of Agriculture into this horrendous case of neglect.
A Department spokesperson said: “The Department can confirm that it is continuing its investigation into the neglect of horses in Briarhill.”
Ms Robinson believes the problem of neglect is at serious levels in Galway, with a further eight horses needing rescuing from a location in South County Galway this week.
Hungry Horse Outside, the GSPCA, the Department of Agriculture and a Dept of Agriculture vet will meet this week in Galway to formulate a strategy of prevention.