The seriously-ill piebald colt – thought to be just a few months old – was discovered by a member of the public in a field behind the

Odiham Health Centre in Odiham, Hook, on Tuesday 11 December.

Named Noel by his rescuers, he was found in a collapsed state and wearing a pendant on a cord around his neck, inscribed with latin which translates as ‘May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death’.

RSPCA inspector Harriet Maund, who is investigating for the animal welfare charity, said: “We’re really keen to hear from anyone who may know where Noel came from, and who owned him.

“When he was found he was down on the ground and unable to get up. He was extremely underweight, bloods tests discovered he had a high worm burden.

“Unfortunately, despite the efforts of vets, little Noel passed away overnight on Sunday 16 December. He seemed to improve at first, but he was still so weak and his body just couldn’t cope.

“We’re hoping someone out there will know more and contact us on 0300 123 8018. There is never an excuse for simply abandoning an animal in their moment of need. This was a heartless and callous act carried out without a thought for the welfare of this horse.”

The young horse, who didn’t have a microchip, is just one of the latest victims of the ongoing equine crisis that has seen the RSPCA and other animal charities facing rising numbers of horses in desperate need of help.

RSPCA Staff will be busy caring for hundreds of horses this Christmas as the charity prepares to take in more equines than ever before.

The animal welfare charity rescued 5,429 animals over the last Christmas period** (2017) and took in more than 13,000 animals over last winter*.

Last year, the charity had more than 8,000 animals in its care on Christmas Day – 868 of those were horses – many more than previous years (526 in 2015 and 608 in 2016). And RSPCA officers rescued 48 equines in December alone.

The figure looks set to be even higher this year, as the RSPCA already had 895 horses in its care by the end of October.

Last year (2017), the charity took in more horses than in any of the past four years, and weekly more and more horses are being found sick, neglected or dumped like rubbish.

RSPCA equine welfare expert Mark Kennedy said: “We receive around 80 calls a day about horses to our 24-hour emergency hotline and are always being asked to help horses in dire need. As soon as we rehome a horse we have another horse in need of entering our care.

“The poor economic climate, overbreeding of horses, the high cost of vet care and falling prices for horses have all contributed to the crisis – and with the poor harvest this summer and associated increases in forage, bedding and feed costs we expect even more horses will need our help as we lead up to Christmas.”

This Christmas the RSPCA is asking the nation to show kindness to all of the animals in need. Based on the last three winters, the RSPCA expect more than 10,000 animals to be taken into our care this winter.

This year the charity’s Kindness At Christmas fundraising appeal hopes to raise money to help cover some of the costs over the festive period.