MILLI Lea Knowles was heartbroken when her precious pet Shetland pony vanished.

Penny, who is just 36 inches tall, was not in her stables when nine-year-old went to visit last Thursday morning.

Milli’s mum, Samantha Brierly, searched the stables in Sharples Vale, Astley Bridge, and could not find the 22-year-old chestnut pony anywhere.

There was no damage to the locked gate, which would have been the only way to lead the pony out of the yard.

Distraught, Ms Brierly reported Penny stolen to the police.

Ms Brierly said: “I just felt like my life had ended when I realised she had been taken. They must have lifted her over the wall somehow.

“Our horses are like family to us. My other horse General was going barmy because Penny wasn’t there and my little girl was absolutely distraught. She couldn’t believe that someone would do something like that. Milli does all the cleaning out for Penny and looks after her. She’s such a lovely pony.”

Ms Brierly put out an appeal to family and friends on social networking website, Facebook, to help find Penny.

And at about 5pm on Thursday, someone contacted the family on Facebook after spotting Penny with two men in Halliwell and Ms Brierly went to collect her that evening.

“Penny is still distressed and a bit shakey but she’s back in her stable now,” says Ms Brierly.

“My daughter is absolutely made up. She was crying with happiness when we brought her back. I’m just so glad she’s home.

“Both the horses were whinnying and nuzzling each other when we bought her back. It was like they were talking to each other. It was a really emotional moment. I’m disgusted with what was happened.”

Police are investigating the incident.