Thief pleads guilty to abusing horse

By Sam Hurley -
Ashleigh Kearns is helping Stella back to health. Photo/Duncan Brown
Ashleigh Kearns is helping Stella back to health. Photo/Duncan Brown

A 15-year-old girl whose pet horse was stolen and ridden through the streets of Napier, leading to animal being permanently disabled, is "over the moon" after learning the man responsible for joy riding her horse has been caught.

John Obrien , 18, appeared in Napier District Court yesterday and pleaded guilty to unlawfully taking and ill-treating Stella, a 15-year-old mare, as he rode her with no horse shoes and no bit in her mouth, to a point Stella became "permanently disabled".

A grinning Obrien stood in the dock and also pleaded guilty to several unrelated charges, including assault with intent to injure and resisting police.

He was remanded in custody until sentencing on July 1 and faces a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment for the charges relating to mistreating the horse.

Stella belongs to teenager Ashleigh Kearns, whose father found the horse at a Napier property three days after she was taken from a Riverbend Rd paddock last December.

Residents had spotted Stella being ridden along Napier roads, including Marine Parade.

She was found dehydrated and unable to walk, with a swollen mouth and ulcers, tight muscles and tendon swelling in her legs, as well as damage to her hooves.

A vet described the pain as a person walking without toenails.

Ashleigh was pleased with Obrien's plea yesterday.

"I am so over the moon about it; just so happy that he's said yes, that he did do it. They definitely deserve time [in jail]."

Ashleigh said while Stella's condition had improved markedly, she was still very sore and on some days required painkillers.

Ashleigh's mother, Sharon Steed, said news that Obrien had been charged and pleaded guilty to taking and cruelly mistreating Stella was "brilliant" and a "victory", after a long police search for the offenders. "There were three people riding her and thrashing her around Napier. It's a victory for us and all animal lovers, it's something they just can't get away with."

A police spokeswoman said a total of three people have been arrested in connection with the ill-treatment and unlawful taking of Stella.

Ms Steed said Stella, who was an SPCA case before Ashleigh took care for her, was also beaten on the head and was now wary of people touching her after months were spent gaining her trust.

"We've started to build her trust back again, but we couldn't touch her head for a while. It took her quite a long time to get over that fear. I don't think the foot is ever going to be right again though.

"Those people who took her have no empathy at all, they thought it was funny but that horse is still suffering today because of what they did."

People wanting to follow Stella's road to recovery can be updated via a Facebook page called "Stella's Story".

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