Canterbury’s Holly Farm owner David Marshall under investigation over skinny horses

David Marshall is under investigation by MPI after complaints the Arabian horses on his Leeston Farm were malnourished.

GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

David Marshall is under investigation by MPI after complaints the Arabian horses on his Leeston Farm were malnourished.

Skinny, wounded and dead horses have sparked complaints about a Canterbury horse breeder’s stud farm.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is investigating Holly Farm owner David Marshall after receiving a complaint about skinny horses in January. 

It gave Marshall until the end of this month to improve the condition of some of the 70-plus Arabian horses on his Leeston farm. 

MPI said it found the condition of some horses, this one photographed in January, needed improving.

MPI said it found the condition of some horses, this one photographed in January, needed improving.

Equine vet Glenn Beeman, who was involved in the inquiry, said he and the ministry took the matter “very, very seriously”. 

But some claim Marshall mistreated horses for years and authorities took too long to act. 

“He should not be allowed to own any animal. He is a hoarder,” previous complainant Belinda Gordge said. 

This photo, taken in January, was among those given to the Ministry of Primary Industries, sparking an inquiry.

This photo, taken in January, was among those given to the Ministry of Primary Industries, sparking an inquiry.

MPI documents show 12 complaints were lodged about Marshall’s horses between February 2010 and January 2017.

They show that in April 2010, a 31-year-old mare with “signs of advancing deterioration” was euthanised under the Act, but “there was no sign of suffering or ill-health”.

Some inspections 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, the documents said. 

The horse's rib cage is visible in this photo taken in January.

The horse’s rib cage is visible in this photo taken in January.

Marshall, who is a well-known breeder, told Stuff a “sizeable number” of his horses were “well under par” in 2010 and 2011, at least three of which died.

That was during a “particularly sad, low time of the property”. 

He focused on remedying the situation over the past six years, only to be bullied and “sabotaged”, he said. 

MPI received 12 complaints were lodged about Marshall's horses between February 2010 and January 2017. This photo was ...

MPI received 12 complaints were lodged about Marshall’s horses between February 2010 and January 2017. This photo was taken in January.

An online petition claims Marshall hoarded and neglected Arabian horses for years “and we are sick of authorities not doing enough to stop this happening”.

The petition, aimed at stopping Marshall buying or breeding more horses, was posted on Monday and has more than 1000 signatures. 

Marshall said he was “incredibly passionate about all animals”. It was business as usual on the farm and he was excited about breeding new foals. 

A good Arab endurance horse of impeccable bloodlines could sell for tens of thousands of dollars. These were ...

GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

A good Arab endurance horse of impeccable bloodlines could sell for tens of thousands of dollars. These were photographed at David Marshall’s farm on Thursday.

MPI spokesman Brendon Mikkelsen said it was monitoring Marshall’s horses after “multiple” complaints.

Many related to a circulating photograph of at least two dead horses in a water-filled offal pit. 

MPI found Marshall needed to addresss animal welfare issues with some horses and directed him to improve their condition by the end of May, Mikkelsen said. 

Environment Canterbury confirmed it received a complaint about an offal pit on Marshall’s farm in 2012, which was filled after site visits, a spokeswoman said. 

Marshall said the offal pit photo distressed him too. A horse died after colic surgery and his friends left the body in the hole, he said. 

A long-time Arabian horse breeder laid the January complaint with MPI after seeing skinny horses on Holly Farm as she drove past. 

Gordge​ said she made four or five complaints about animal neglect on Marshall’s farm while she lived in Leeston between 2008 and 2013.

She said she saw paddocks packed with skinny mares and foals with no access to feed. 

Each time authorities found the horses’ conditions met minimum standards.

“Clearly being a skeleton is a minimum standard.”

“The law is so feeble. It is pathetic,” she said. 

Gordge said she reported seeing dead wagyu calves in Marshall’s paddock. MPI confirmed it followed up complaints about Marshall’s cattle in the past. 

Linda Harmon​ confiscated a mare she leased to Marshall so he could get a foal from her in 2011. 

“She was in a back 10-acre paddock with literally no feed and with 25 other horses.”

On the 32-degree day, the horse had a cover over its skin-and-bone body and septic rub wounds. 

“It was just horrible. I just burst into tears and couldn’t believe anyone could do that.”

“When I’m picking up a horse that’s starving, he is over in Sydney judging at an Arab [horse] show.”

Bonni Harrison bought a mare in foal off Marshall in 2006. When it arrived in Auckland it was so malnourished it collapsed coming off the truck, she said. 

An attending vet doubted it was in foal because it “looked like a bloody greyhound”.

After three days on a drip, treatment for worms, lice, a skin infection, and giving birth a month later, the mare took a year to return to full health.

“These are not just throw-away horses. He’s got horses there worth about $80,000.”

SPCA chief executive officer Barry Helem said he was aware of the claims, but it was up to MPI to investigate. 

WHAT IS ARABIAN HORSE BREEDING?

Arabians are considered the oldest breed of horse, dating back about 5000 years.

Its desert origins make them a hardy breed, staying conditioned on less feed than other breeds. They are a top endurance breed, built to cope with the sport’s 160km per day races.

There are 18 Arabian horse studs listed on the Arab Horse Breeders’ Society website. Holly Farm is no longer on the list.

Bloodlines are important to breeding.

New Zealand breeders import from and export to Australia, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

A good Arab endurance horse of impeccable bloodlines could sell for tens of thousands of dollars. 


 – Stuff