Some of the horses seized from the Andrew, Alta., farm were brought to an Edmonton-area ranch in March and were nursed back to health. ((CBC))

The man who owned the Alberta farm where nearly 30 horses starved to death in February was fined $12,000 Wednesday by a judge in Vegreville.

Axel Hinz-Schleuter pleaded guilty last month to a charge under the Animal Protection Act of allowing animals to be in distress. 

The $12,000 fine sets a record in Alberta, according to Crown prosecutor Moira Vane. The previous record was $10,000.

Vane said she was not surprised the judge levied a fine of that amount.

"It really is the worst case that we've seen in regards to distress against horses in the province of Alberta,"  she said.  "And so when it's something this serious, this large, it certainly does merit the highest fine."

In addition to the fine, Hinz-Schleuter has also been prohibited from owning horses for the rest of his life.

Dale Huber, who pleaded guilty in November to the same charge, was fined $6,000 and given a 10-year ban on horse ownership.

The men could have faced a maximum $20,000 fine.

Neither man was in court Wednesday. 

Hinz-Schleuter and Huber were originally charged with 12 counts each under the Animal Protection Act, but 11 charges were withdrawn by the Crown when the men entered guilty pleas on Nov. 18.

On Feb. 26, peace officers with the Alberta SPCA seized about 100 emaciated and sick horses, mostly Arabians, from the farm owned by Hinz-Schleuter near Andrew, northeast of Edmonton.

The carcasses of nearly 30 others were discovered on the farm. Officials believe the animals starved to death.

Surviving horses adopted

Most of the surviving horses were turned over to Susan Fyfe, owner of Keno Hills Stable in Ardrossan, east of Edmonton, to nurse them back to health.

Volunteers formed the Rescue 100 Foundation to help direct efforts to find the horses new homes, a feat that was accomplished by July.

The foundation's Donna-Rae Coatta was in court Wednesday to hear the judge's decision. Outside the courthouse, she said it was difficult to assess whether the fines were stiff enough.

"What is enough?" she said. " Horses died.... How can you put a value or a cost on that?"

Coatta said she was pleased, though, with the fact the Alberta SPCA can now inspect the property any time it wants. She was also happy Hinz-Schleuter faces a life-time ban on horse ownership.

The case has helped raise awareness about the well-being of animals, Coatta said.

"We know now that the public are driving down roads and actually looking in the fields and looking at the condition of horses. And for them to be so aware of what's happening, that's the good that's going to come out of this rescue."

With files from Scott Fralick