The RSPCA had charged Seymour man Andrew Duff with one count of animal cruelty after he allegedly dragged a horse with a shattered hind leg from the track during the Galleywood Hurdle in 2010.
The horse, Sirroceon Storm, fell soon after the race began, breaking its leg so badly it caused the limb to ‘‘swing wildly around’’, the organisation said.
The RSPCA — a long time anti-jumps racing crusader — said Mr Duff caused ‘‘unreasonable pain and suffering’’ when he moved the horse, and that it should have been euthanised where it collapsed on the track.
The RSPCA held Mr Duff, 46, of Whiteheads Creek, solely responsible, choosing not to pursue higher-ranking RVL officials or Warrnambool Racing Club executives.
Professor Paul McGreevy, a veterinary ethologist at the University of Sydney, said Mr Duff’s actions were unnecessary, with the jockey having effectively restrained the horse from a flight response by making it walk in a tight circle around him.
The rest of the field, which was about to thunder by, could have been diverted around the wounded animal — which was eventually put down — or the race stopped, Professor McGreevy said.
‘‘Moving a horse with such a catastrophic injury is likely to have caused unreasonable pain or suffering because it would have prompted the horse to attempt to bear weight through the fracture site,’’ he said. ‘‘Horses in extremis can be moved, for example, by dragging, but that does not mean moving them is humane.’’
However, three leading equine vets — who prepared reports free of charge for Mr Duff’s counsel, Damien McAloon, SC, because they considered the RSPCA’s actions a great injustice — discredited Professor McGreevy’s evidence.
They blasted the RSPCA’s prosecution brief as curious, obsessive, lacking serious first-hand experience of handling injured or distressed horses and a philosophical or political intrusion.
Last Friday in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court the count of animal cruelty against Mr Duff was dropped.
All defending veterinarians said the attendant risked his life to prevent a further ‘‘catastrophic’’ accident when the rest of the field passed the injured horse, and that it would have been impossible to forcibly move the wounded animal that weighed about half a tonne.
‘‘The concept that a 80-90 kilogram man could drag or pull an unwilling horse is patently absurd,’’ veterinarian of 40 years Paul Kavenagh said.
‘‘It would appear to me with 40 years’ experience that these accusations have been made by persons with limited or no serious first-hand experience of handling injured or distressed horses.’’
Another leading equine surgeon, Glenn Robertson-Smith, said in some cases where horses are injured they want to move, and allowing that facilitated control.
‘‘In my assessment Mr Duff did a good job and was at significant risk to himself trying to control an agitated, unbalanced racehorse with a serious fracture,” he said.
If Mr Duff had been found guilty he could have faced 12 months’ jail or a $14,000 fine, and banned from owning an animal for 10 years.
By PATRICK BARLEY AND JARED LYNCH, Warnambool Standard