Are Horses a Vicious Species? Court to Decide

Connecticut horse owners and enthusiasts anxiously await a Supreme Court ruling on hearings held Sept. 24, 2013, that could declare horses to be a naturally vicious species.

The implications of the decision could impact equine owners and businesses not only in Connecticut but also throughout the United States and possibly beyond. Area farmers and horse owners said that, If declared a vicious species, horses and horse activities could become uninsurable, greatly impacting the horse industry. That industry, according to 2005 statistics, contributes $221 million per year to Connecticut’s economy via horse-related activities such as boarding, breeding, and training.

The appeal involves a boy, then 1½ years old, who was with his father buying plants at Glendale Farms in Milford in 2006. According to court documents, the boy’s father lifted him to pet a horse identified as “Scuppy,” who stuck his head out from behind the fence and bit the boy’s cheek, “removing a large chunk of it.”

The farm’s owner, Timothy Astriab, said signs had been posted since before the incident asking visitors not to pet or feed the pastured horses.

The initial 2010 court ruling in New Haven sided with Astriab, ruling that the child’s father, Anthony Vendrella Sr., failed to prove the owner knew of previous incidents of aggression by Scuppy. The judge cited Astriab’s testimony that neither he nor anyone else had ever seen Scuppy or any of the farm’s other horses bite in the previous 28 years.

A February 2012 appeal to the appellate court overturned that ruling, resulting in the Supreme Court case now in process.

The Connecticut Horse Council (CHC) and Connecticut Farm Bureau filed a friend of the court brief stressing that under common law, viciousness is generally judged individually according to a horse’s breed, age, and gender rather than as an entire species.

Fred Mastele, president of the CHC, said Thursday that he has no indication of when a ruling might be made. “And, we don’t know what legislation might be enacted in the future to protect people from horses if this ruling comes down in favor of the plaintiffs,” he said. “We’re now in wait-and-see mode.”

About the Author

Diane E. Rice

Diane E. Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then melded her education and her lifelong passion for horses in an editorial position at Appaloosa Journal. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer and has served on American Horse Publications’ board of directors. Rice spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and with her daughters, grandchildren, and pets.

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