A GROUP of youngsters cornered a “terrified” Shetland pony and tried to ride it in what is thought to be the first instance in the New Forest of a bizarre new social media craze.
The incident prompted owner Sarah Mills, who runs the not-for-profit All Animal Rescue organisation, to issue a warning.
She has revealed seven teenagers targeted the distressed animal called Balthasar at a rented field in Fawley on Monday afternoon.
Five of them were filming or egging on the other two, who cornered the small rescue pony close to a barbed wire fence.
Sarah rushed to the scene and confronted the youths after she was called by a witness who knew she owned the animal.
Speaking to the A&T, Sarah said: “I told them what the pony had been through and how much terror they were causing him but one of the lads just laughed at me.
“One of them started to say about the group being more people than me, and seemed to be insinuating they would attack me if I didn’t stop telling them to stop.
“I’m just so annoyed, more than anything. It’s scary because there is a very common link between animal abuse and human abuse as a lot of people who go on to be violent towards humans have done it to animals. It’s quite scary to see that happening locally and so close to home.”
The youngsters, she continued, told her they were from Millbrook and were filming their activity to put on social media.
“They said it’s a new craze called the ‘Gypsy dare’, which sees someone jump on a pony and have it filmed,” Sarah said.
Earlier this month there was an outcry in Cornwall after a teenager was filmed riding a pregnant Shetland pony that later had a miscarriage.
Sarah added: “Anybody could see Balthasar was terrified. His eyes were popping out of his head. He was trying to run and he was almost hyperventilating with fear. You do not have to be a ‘horsey type’ to see that and yet they were stood their filming. It’s just really, really scary.
“I just think the youngsters are being crazy because they could be killed easily. They could get a kick to the ribcage which could pierce through to their heart or they get really badly hurt with something such as brain damage.
“Not only that, there’s the long-term damage they are doing to the animal and the psychological damage. I just do not think they realise the consequences of their actions.”
Sarah stressed that the type of ponies targeted in the craze are particularly those ridden or owned by small children.
“They could be a lovely steady-Eddy type of animal but completely different if ridden by someone else and quite dangerous. A child could end up getting hurt by someone not realising what has happened, and if that happened it would be an awful situation,” she said.
Her caution comes just a week after the Commoners’ Defence Association (CDA) warned people against petting or getting close to ponies to take selfies to post online.
Responding to the apparent new craze, CDA chairman Tony Hockley said: “Any abuse of a commoner’s animal in any way would be a crime under the Animal Welfare Act.
“Anyone who sees any evidence of abuse must report it immediately to the police. The CDA would press for prosecution.
“All of the animals are cared for by their owners, and no one should interfere with their natural grazing. Open access to the New Forest exists due to the survival of common grazing here, and abuse of our animals puts all of this at risk.”
The verderers declined to comment.
A spokesman for Hampshire Police confirmed it received an allegation of five boys and two girls aged between 13 and 15 engaging in anti-social behaviour.
He added: “Enquiries are ongoing. Anyone with information should call police on 101, quoting the crime reference number 44190130852.”