THE owners of horses found in “horrific” circumstances on land in York have been given suspended prison sentences and told to pay more than £37,000 in bills.

Kathleen Thornton, 64, and her partner Donald Smithson, 72, of Garth End Cottages, Huntington, were found by RSPCA inspectors to be keeping horses in derelict stables and outbuildings littered with debris and faeces. Many were left without fresh water.

Horses were found to be noticeably underweight, with protruding bones and overgrown hooves, and some were living in dark stables with saturated bedding and in visible distress.

Inspectors took possession of ten of the 28 horses as they were either suffering or their needs were not being met.

Thornton was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and Smithson was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months.

Both were given a lifetime ban for keeping equines. They were told they would have to pay £18,951 each to the RSPCA for the boarding, care and veterinary costs for the horses taken from them and to make a contribution to legal and investigation costs.

Speaking after sentencing at York Magistrates’ Court, Inspector Claire Mitchell said: “I’m really pleased with the outcome considering the inability of those owners to meet the basic needs of the animals in their possession.

“It was upsetting to see. If you even care a little bit about an animal, seeing them in that state was shocking and upsetting.” She said a further 13 horses still in Thornton and Smithson’s possession would be rehomed within 21 days.

Last month Thornton was found guilty in her absence of 23 charges of animal cruelty and neglect and Smithson pleaded guilty to six charges, including a charge in which he admitted failing to meet the needs of the animals.

Describing the scene she found in the 2012 inspection, Inspector Keira Benham had told the court: “The smell hit you as soon as you looked in the stables. It was horrific; it made my eyes water.

“It was dark, there was a lot of saturated dirt and faeces on the floor. The water trough was quite dirty, with remnants of hay in it.”

She said two horses on the land at Whisker Farm, North Lane, Huntington, had paced a track into the floor because they were repeatedly walking in circles.

In a separate field half a mile from the stables, paddock and fold pens, a grey pony mare was being kept with inadequate water, with such overgrown feet she made little attempt to move.

When questioned at the time, Thornton said she was aware some of the horses needed attention but that she had struggled to care for them as she had been unwell with chest infections and had been reliant on Smithson and family members to look after the horses.

Smithson said he had been unable to give them the support they needed.