Byline: Paul Harris reports
SHE was drowning in mud when they found her - lying in a ditch, shivering with cold and waiting to die. The barbed wire that entangled her was cutting into her flesh. She was starving, skeletal and helpless.
By the time a vet reached her, the two-year-old chestnut mare struggling to breathe probably had only minutes to live.
She was so weak she could barely find the strength to lift her nostrils out of the water-filled gully that was about to become her miserable grave. It took a mechanical digger to hoist the young shire to safety - then a desperate, long-running battle to save her life.
When she stumbled to her feet for the first time after being transported to a sanctuary, the pathetic sight reduced some of her rescuers to tears. All through the night, they nursed her, fed her, even said a prayer for her.
The name they gave her was Hope. Charity, it transpired, would take far longer to come to her aid.
The young vet who organised Hope's rescue was so appalled when the RSPCA refused to prosecute the owner that she paid [pounds sterling]1,500 to buy the horse in an 11thhour attempt to save it.
Then she started a Facebook campaign to highlight alleged cruelty to Hope and the plight of 17 other shires, in a bid to 'shame' the animal charity into action.
Last night, as the campaign attracted worldwide interest and nearly 5,000 followers, there were fears that other horses on the Lancashire farmland could die in filthy, freezing conditions unless the RSPCA steps in quickly.
THE Hope's Cause internet page was started by newly-qualified equine vet Vikki Fowler, who was called to the farm at Edgworth, near Bolton, Lancashire, after Hope was spotted on Monday last week, struggling at the bottom of a steep, muddy bank on land used for grazing by breeder Phil Davies, 64.
A passing van driver saw the horse in distress and alerted staff at a nearby equestrian centre. Vikki was so disturbed by what she found, she called the RSPCA.
Hope had fallen on the bank after pushing through a fence to find water. Now she was trapped by barbed wire wrapped around her hind legs, pointing head first into the gully.
Vikki's first thought was that the mare's condition was so bad she would have to be put down. But in a difficult rescue operation, equestrian centre staff used wire cutters to free her before wrapping a sling around her and heaving her up the bank with the digger.
Yesterday Vikki, 25, said: 'It was clear that she had given up. She had no energy to fight or even save herself from drowning. She was resigned, waiting to die. But as soon as she was lifted to standing she began to eat grass. It was clear that she wanted to live... so I decided to give her a chance.'
Once Hope had been hoisted to safety, the vet instructed Mr Davies to move her to a warm stable. But the horse was later seen slumped in a field.
Despite this, Vikki said, an RSPCA officer who inspected the animal said she was not in a desperate enough condition to warrant being taken away. Meanwhile, it would take six people four hours to wash the mud from her coat and coax her to stand unaided.
The Facebook page says: 'Hope was dramatically emaciated, with the outline of bones clearly defined, pelvis protruding, rib cage visible through her hide. …