'Concerns remain' after deadline passes for David Marshall to improve skinny horses' condition
A Canterbury horse breeder under investigation after claims he was keeping skinny, wounded and dead animals has made "some improvement", but concerns remain.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) gave Holly Farm owner David Marshall until the end of May to improve the condition of some of his 70-plus Arabian horses after it received a complaint about skinny horses in January.
MPI's clout in dealing with animal-welfare complaints has since been questioned as it received 12 complaints about Marshall's horses between 2010 and 2017.
Some claim Marshall mistreated horses at his Leeston property for years and authorities took too long to act.
An MPI spokeswoman said the ministry was now "carefully considering" its next steps.
"We have noted some improvement in the condition of the majority of the horses at Holly Farm, however there remain some concerns regarding the management of the stock."
The latest investigation was sparked after "multiple" complaints, many of which related to a circulating photograph of at least two dead horses in a water-filled offal pit.
Marshall said he had the wellbeing of his horses under control and that complaints about their condition were "unfounded".
"Their care and daily needs were never lacking."
It was a "perception" his horses were "too light", he said.
"At the end of the day I do not have horses die from neglect or malnutrition or lack of provisions."
He claimed he had not been forced to put any animals down, as some complainants had said, but he had euthanised two old, retired mares: "They were just old."
"There is an encouragement to lessen numbers and to improve condition and that's been done via sales and normal procedures that I've undertaken myself."
He had sold at least 10 horses and had about 60 left, he said.
"There's no doubt about it, with autumn conditions being so ideal from being basically through three seasons of drought, the whole situation is streets ahead of where we were in February."
Marshall continued the stud's breeding programme and said he did not see any reason why he could not continue adding to his stock.
"I have not been told that I'm not allowed to buy a horse."
Marshall felt "absolutely bullied and targeted" by a social-media "hate campaign".
Horse-welfare activist Nikki Subritzky said she did not believe a month was enough time to rehabilitate horses in a bad condition.
"It doesn't happen overnight with them when they're so neglected. It takes about a year."
She claimed complaints about Marshall in the past had all ended the same way.;
"We complain, authorities step in, cull a few [horses] off because they don't want to spend the resources on rehabilitating and they think 'Out of sight, out of mind'," Subritzky said.
"Then they leave him to repeat the process."
MPI documents said inspections of Marshall's animals over the years identified no welfare issues or found horses were in "light body condition, but not below minimum standard". Marshall was often advised and educated on stocking rate and feeding.
Last month, experts claimed there was a "major problem" with New Zealand's animal-welfare law, with just 17 inspectors in charge of protecting millions of animals.