Tasmanian harness racing trainer left horses to 'die in a paddock'

Keith Toulmin heading to the Launceston Magistrates Court on Tuesday. Picture: Neil Richardson.
Keith Toulmin heading to the Launceston Magistrates Court on Tuesday. Picture: Neil Richardson.

A harness racing trainer may never work in the industry again after he left 15 horses to “starve” and “perish”.

Keith William Toulmin, 68 of Carrick, pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty and aggravated cruelty in the Launceston Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The RSPCA launched an investigation after an inspector found 15 horses and a pony “starving” on a Birralee property last year.

The court heard the animals were originally being cared for by the defendant’s son, Craig Toulmin, who was also a harness racing trainer, but had his license disqualified over drug trafficking charges in 2014– the court heard he left the state after “getting into trouble”.

His father then took on responsibility of the horses, but “could not afford” to take care of them.

It was revealed, however, that eight of the horses were registered to the defendant. 

But Toulmin said the horses were only registered in his name because his son no longer had a license.

The court heard he was given eight weeks by the RSPCA to feed and treat the horses, but they continued to deteriorate over that time.

Craig and Keith Toulmin.

Craig and Keith Toulmin.

Of the 15 horses, four had to be destroyed.

One was found in such a condition that it could not stand on its feet and was described by RSPCA inspectors as being in an “extremely emaciated state”.

Others had bones visibly protruding, weakened muscles and it was apparent they were “starving”. 

Appearing unrepresented before Magistrate Sharon Cure, Toulmin failed to open up about his experience with horses.

When questioned by Ms Cure about his occupation he claimed to be a retired pensioner who worked previously as a shearer.

It was RSPCA Tasmania’s prosecutor Glenn Carey who told the court that Toulmin was in fact a harness racing trainer and had been working with horses at the time of his offending. 

Toulmin admitted he had been a trainer in both Tasmania and Victoria and still had five horses in his care. 

He received his training license in 1979 but it was suspended last year as a result of the investigation by the RSPCA.

Mr Carey said the RSPCA was seeking compensation after the organisation had spent more than $13,000 caring for the horses they had siezed from the Birralee property, including nearly $6000 on horse feed.

While Toulmin remained quiet throughout much of his court appearance, he did tell Ms Cure he had “tried to contact the owners” of the horses and did not know where else to go for help.

He said he had owned horses since he was 18 and had “never been in trouble”.

Ms Cure said Toulmin had no prior history but she needed to “send a clear message to the community about cruelty to animals”.

“Cruelty to animals appalls the community … and it’s seen all too often in our courts,” she said.

“I am appalled by the fact that you’re a person whose made a living out of horse training … there’s absolutely no excuse.”

Toulmin was convicted on three charges – aggravated cruelty, cruelty to animals and failing to comply with an instruction.

The charge of aggravated cruelty related to the horse ‘Kinda Tas’, which was “left to die” in a paddock and had to be destroyed.

He was sentenced to two months in prison, wholly suspended for 12 months.

He was fined $5000 for cruelty to animals and ordered to pay $5900 to RSPCA Tasmania as compensation.

Ms Cure also disqualified Toulmin from having custody of horses or livestock, other than the five he already owns, for the next five years. 

While some of the seized horses have been re-homed, three remain at the RSPCA and Ms Cure ordered they become the property of the organisation.

A person charged with aggravated cruelty faces up to five years in prison.

For animal cruelty, a person faces up to 12 months.

This story Horses left to ‘die in a paddock’ first appeared on The Examiner.