The SPCA in Bloemfontein has confiscated 68 starving and emaciated horses from the Lesotho army.
The horses were being kept on a small plot in Hobhouse in the Free State, about 131km from Bloemfontein.
"They were on the South African side of the border and we got our authority from a magistrate to work there and to remove the animals," Bloemfontein SPCA senior inspector Reinet Meyer told News24.
Following complaints about their treatment, the SPCA found the horses in a very poor state.
"The Bloemfontein SPCA went to investigate and found six horses that were already dead. A further three horses were flat on the ground and in very poor condition. These three horses breathed a lot and were in terrible pain and suffering. They couldn't get up at all and were terribly weak and starving. The horses were completely dehydrated. Euthanasia was promptly administered to them by the Bloemfontein SPCA inspectors," said Meyer.
She added that there was one commander on duty.
"He was actually very humble because he had actually complained to the Lesotho Army that he needed fodder for the horses - there was no grazing to eat," said Meyer.
Officials were shocked at the state of the horses.
"I spent time with the horses and observe them. All the horses look so depressed. It's a cold feeling to be in their presence. Their soul is completely broken and they are very down. The horses show no emotion or any sign of energy," said Bloemfontein SPCA inspector Tebogo Maswanganye.
The surviving horses are now doing well in the care of the SPCA.
In a separate case, the National SPCA (NSPCA) is concerned about the fate of a case against the South African National Defence Force over the treatment of horses at its South African Army Special Infantry Capability (SAASIC) unit in the North West province.
"We laid charges against the SANDF and we were at the base where they actually were beating and kicking the horses," NSPCA spokesperson Meg Wilson told News24.
The organisation confiscated the horses in May 2018, following evidence of starvation and beating in January 2019.
However, the police investigation is grinding along slowly.
"I think there are some very good police officers out there who take these cases seriously, but police haven't got statements from of the accused in our cases yet," said Wilson.
She added that, for some of the SANDF horses, there has been a happy ending, with 69 being re-homed.
But there has been little action of the defence ministry, said Wilson.
"We received no feedback from the ministry - our case has just been ignored."
The SPCA has appealed for funding to continue its work.