A former teacher has been found not guilty of animal cruelty after video footage showed her kicking and slapping a horse.
Sarah Moulds had been accused of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – a grey pony she still owns called Bruce Almighty.
The 39-year-old, who lost her job as a teacher after being filmed, claimed her actions were proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.
Speaking outside Lincoln Crown Court afterwards, she said there are “two sides to every story” and “in this digital age, misinformation can spread like wildfire”.
Death threats had been “hand-delivered” to her and her children, she said, adding that a “snippet of video was taken out of context and manipulated to paint a picture of me that is entirely at odds with who I am”.
On 6 November 2021, Bruce Almighty was being ridden by a child in the Cottesmore Hunt near The Drift, Gunby, in Lincolnshire.
As the horses were being untacked, Bruce was being held by the child before he unexpectedly “took off” and moved about 25 metres down the road, Mrs Moulds said.
Instructing the child to let go of Bruce’s rope, Mrs Moulds said she believed there were a “number of horrific things” that might have happened had the child attempted to hold on.
Bruce Almighty eventually stopped to graze on a grass verge before returning to the horse box.
He was then caught on camera being chastised by Mrs Moulds and being led into a horse box, the court heard.
Footage of the incident – which was shared on social media by Hertfordshire Hunt Saboteurs – was played to the jury.
Mrs Moulds was prosecuted by the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Prosecutor Hazel Stevens told the court that Bruce “suffered physically and mentally” as a result of Moulds’ “over the top” chastisement.
“She decided to treat Bruce like that, she made that decision,” Ms Stevens said.
“She kicked him, she said because she had her hands full, but it didn’t end there.
“After kicking him and making that chastisement, she passes the lead rope to someone else and continues.
“What is Bruce learning from that?”
Mrs Moulds, however, said she intended to “briefly shock” the animal but denied losing her temper.
“In that moment [Bruce] had done something incredibly dangerous and, in that exact moment, I decided that the right thing to do was discipline him quickly,” she said.
“In reality, in that moment, it was four seconds.
“My intention was then, and always was, to discipline Bruce in the moment so that he does not do it again.
“There was minimal contact and it was so quick and so short.”
An equine vet who gave evidence said Bruce demonstrated fear in the video – something the Crown said constituted suffering.
But there were no signs of external injuries on Bruce, the vet added, and internal injuries could only be confirmed via a post-mortem examination.
Bruce was taken to a vet 10 days after the video was made and found to be in good health.
Mrs Moulds’ barrister, Derek Duffy, told the jury: “Sarah Moulds says ‘I was punishing that horse for walking off because it’s a child’s pony, and if a pony walks off on a road with a child holding it, it is a dangerous activity’.
“The reason the horse is punished is because you can’t tell it what to do.
“We are in an area of speculation because there is no empirical evidence that you can rely on.
“The RSPCA did not examine this horse.
“There is no evidence to say it had any injury whatsoever.”
The RSPCA said it accepted the jury’s decision.
Pony still lives with Moulds
Mrs Moulds told the jury she has four horses, has ridden since the age of four, and had owned Bruce for two-and-a-half years at the time of the incident.
Along with friends and family, she wept as the verdict was delivered.
She said outside court: “It is profoundly troubling that, in this digital age, misinformation can spread like wildfire, leading to premature judgments and jeopardising the lives and careers of innocent individuals.
“A snippet of video was taken out of context and manipulated to paint a picture of me that is entirely at odds with who I am.
“I adore my animals and have dedicated my life to teaching and nurturing young minds; it was heart-wrenching to be so wrongly and publicly maligned.
“It is crucial to understand that what we see on the internet, especially on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, is often a fragmented version of the truth.
“The jury’s decision today has vindicated me. However, the damage from the last 20 months’ trial by social media is irreversible.
“The loss of my career, the hand-delivered death threats to me and my children, and the distress caused to my family cannot be undone.
“My loved ones have had to watch powerlessly as our life has unravelled based on falsehoods.”
The pony lives on Mrs Moulds’ property in Somerby, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, and has a “wonderfully idyllic” life, she said.
She said: “I certainly will never strike a horse, discipline a horse, in that manner because my life has been torn to pieces as a result of that four-second decision.”