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The owner of a pet hotel has said she faces bankruptcy if she loses a libel claim for lashing out at a dressage rider on Facebook over a dead pony.
Andrea Oldham posted comments that described Beth Wood, a professional dressage rider, trainer and stables owner, as “vile” and “a disgrace to loving horse owners”.
Oldham, who runs a pet hotel and dog walking business, made the comments after a pony named Lily was spotted lying dead in a field in 2020. She also posted a description of the scene written by another user on Wood’s business page, along with a series of comments that the horsewoman has said amounted to a “hate campaign”.
Wood, who has competed internationally, acknowledged that Lily had died in the field, but denied that the animal was not properly cared for. She is suing Oldham in the High Court in London for £15,000 in damages. Wood also wants a judicial order for the comments to be taken down and to prevent similar allegations from being repeated.
Oldham has told the court that she will defend her comments, arguing that her posts were true or an expression of her honest opinion. However, she has told a judge that the cost of the litigation has brought her to “the cusp of bankruptcy”.
In written submissions, lawyers for Wood, who lives in Stoke-on-Trent, said that she had an exemplary professional background in the equine industry, dating back to her childhood.
Wood’s legal team noted that she competed professionally in shows and dressage. She is said to have shown many horses and ponies at international level competition and to have competed in advanced level dressage.
Her lawyers also told the court that Wood cared for some of her clients’ horses as well as her own.
Wood is said to have found one of the ponies lying in the mud on a late afternoon in 2020. According to her lawyers, Wood determined that the animal had died and contacted a fallen stock business, SJ & JM Weston, to remove the pony and prevent it from being attacked further by the birds and the elements. Wood is then said to have contacted the owners of the pony.
The fallen stock specialist is said to have identified that the pony had died from natural causes, that “there were no signs of a cruel standard of living”, and to have “proposed that the death had only occurred within the previous six hours”.
Wood’s lawyers told the court that Oldham, who lives in Congleton, Cheshire, left a series of Facebook messages to her own clients. One said: “Be absolutely sure that you want this vile person training your horse. If she leaves her own to die and decompose then imagine what she is doing to yours.”
In another, she wrote: “She is an absolute disgrace to loving horse owners and animal lovers.”
It has been argued that the posts created a false picture of Wood as “a vicious and cruel woman who . . . is unprofessional and unfit to look after animals” and that Oldham intended to start “a hate campaign” against her.
Oldham’s lawyers have told the court that she is relying on the defence of “truth” in relation to the initial post and a defence of “honest opinion” in relation to the other posts.
The judge, Master Mark Gidden, has ordered the pair to try to resolve the dispute outside of a full trial to avoid a financially ruinous court fight. If they cannot reach a settlement the case will return to court for trial at a later date.