RSPCA inspectors are hoping to find a new home for three young ponies which were abandoned in a public park.
The young ponies had been spotted loose several times between Christmas Eve and December 29 by people in the County Durham town of Bishop Auckland.
But each time the RSPCA and the British Horse Society (BHS) were called, the ponies evaded capture and vanished, much to the frustration of the welfare officers.
Eventually, on December 29, quick-thinking locals saw the colts trudging through deep snow in a park in Princes Street, and managed to tempt them inside the local tennis courts with hay.
Then they safely closed the doors to confine them before calling the RSPCA.
A BHS welfare officer supplied hay, water and a padlock and chain for the gate to secure the young male ponies, and arrangements were made to transport them to nearby boarding stables to receive expert care.
RSPCA equine rehoming officer Jacqui Wilson is now appealing for new homes for the three ponies, which have been nicknamed after top tennis stars Andre (Agassi), Pancho (Gonzales) and Rafael (Nadal).
She said: “The 'Tennis Court Trio' may have evaded capture for a while, but thanks to a great joint effort between local people, the British Horse Society and ourselves at the RSPCA, they were safely captured.
“Now, three weeks on, they are lovely, friendly young colts who have a great future ahead of them, so it’s very sad to think their previous owners thought it was okay to just let them loose when they decided they didn’t have any use for them.
"Anything could have happened to them or to the public had they been left to roam freely for much longer.
“It’s really irresponsible to abandon horses, but sadly, it’s something we see so often now as a result of the horse crisis which has been going on for many years, but showing no sign of stopping.
“No owner has come forward to claim Andre, Pancho and Rafael. Unfortunately foals like these are irresponsibly bred in the area and have little or no value.
“We did have some reports that a man was seen before Christmas, chasing them out of a lorry near the town's rugby club, so if anyone with any more information about this can call our inspector’s appeal line number on 0300 123 8018.”
BHS regional manager Wendy Suddes said: "We are very fortunate indeed that members of the public cared enough to act - and that the RSPCA were in a position to offer these poor foals respite.
"We would encourage everyone touched by this story, to donate whatever small amount they possibly can, to help secure a future for these poor little boys."
Anyone who would like to offer Andre, Pancho and Rafael a home should visit the RSPCA’s website.
The RSPCA is still seeing the effects of the ongoing horse crisis which has been going on for several years and appears to be gaining momentum. It is looking after more than 850 horses, ponies and donkeys that inspectors have rescued.