Saddlebred Attacks: One Year Later
- Jul 17, 2004
July 17 marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of the first two American Saddlebreds near Lexington, Ky., that succumbed to injuries resulting from attacks on their left forelegs. Only two of the five attacked horses survived the ordeal, one of which made a dramatic comeback last fall to win second place in a major competition. During the past year, the attacks have generated a $100,000 reward offer, state legislation, multiple lawsuits, and continuous investigation. (See www.TheHorse.com/sbreds for archived stories on the case.)
The equine victims all lived at Dave and Dena Lopez's Double D Ranch in Versailles, Ky., and their left front pasterns were injected with a necrotizing substance sometime during the weekend of June 28-29, 2003. Their injuries were discovered the morning of June 30, 2003, setting into motion a whirlwind of veterinary care that included revolutionary new growth factor treatments and hyperbaric chamber therapy, round-the-clock investigation by the Kentucky State Police, and distress for the various animals' owners.
A reward fund was established by the United States Equestrian Federation; $100,000 was pledged for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators.
Each horse had a wound ranging from the size of a quarter to 3-4 inches in diameter where the as yet unidentified caustic substance killed the tissue (and had to be sloughed off or removed by veterinarians). The wounds caused extreme pain and the horses to shift their weight to the opposite foreleg, making founder a threat. Two of the horses, including Meet Prince Charming (a 2-year-old gelding owned by Dena Lopez) and Wild Eyed and Wicked (the one which was considered most valuable, owned by Sally Jackson of Overland Park, Kan.), were euthanized on July 17, 2003, because they foundered in those overloaded right forelimbs and their condition continued to deteriorate. A third horse (Kiss Me, a 4-year-old mare owned by Jane Burkhemper) was euthanized the next day. A fourth victim's injury was not as serious as the others, and that mare (Sassational, then a 3-year-old filly) was back to work by late July 2003. Click here for images of Cats Don't Dance and Sassational.
Sassational is fully recovered and is carrying a foal, according to Dena Lopez, who owns the mare and says that in the last year, security on the farm has been increased. "I have a lot of security here," said Lopez. "I have cameras, an alarm system, a night watchman, and a police cruiser comes by and through the farm at night."
Full Recovery for Cat
The fifth attack victim, Cats Don't Dance, a then 6-year-old chestnut gelding who is also owned by Jackson, offered one of the few bright spots in the case. While his injury was severe, the persistence of treating veterinarians prior to and during his lengthy stay at the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee (HDM) veterinary hospital in Lexington helped Cat recover completely. Last November, with the blessing of Nathan Slovis, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, the horse's treating veterinarian at HDM, a healed and sound Cat returned to the show ring with Jackson in Kansas City, Mo., capturing second place in his class at the United Professional Horsemen's Association/American Royal National Championship.
According to Slovis, Cat has some loss of feeling in the spot where the injury was, which could be permanent. He was given a well-deserved winter off. "He was barefoot all winter, but he's now shod," says Jackson. "I wondered when they put shoes on him whether something would show up, but he appears to be pain-free."
She explains that trainers at the horse's current home at Peeper Ranch in Kansas City are getting him back into shape, because she's not riding for now. "When I got off Cat (at the show last November), I said that I'm not riding again until we know who killed Wicked. I (entered him in that show) to prove that he was performable and could come back," she adds.
Insurance, Legislation, and Litigation
Two of the three horses that died were insured: Wicked and Kiss Me. According to Joe Jackson (Sally's husband), the insurance company ruled that Wicked was not attacked on the Jacksons' behalf and paid a $200,000 claim (many in the industry have said that he was worth much more). According to the Jacksons and Lopez, Jane Burkhemper has been finishing up paperwork for Kiss Me's policy.
Hoping to prevent similar attacks in the future, the Jacksons passed around petitions to members of the equine industry in the latter part of 2003 to encourage legislators to pass a bill that would make cruelty to any livestock animal a felony. Members of the Kentucky State Legislature made this bill a reality for livestock animals worth $1,000 or more in April of this year.
Lawsuits have been filed in connection with the case and are pending. According to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader on March 3, 2004, Double D filed a lawsuit in Woodford County Circuit Court seeking payment of $13,172 from the Jacksons for the care and training of Cat, Wicked, and another horse that wasn't involved in the attacks. In a countersuit filed in federal court, the Jacksons say that monthly charges were paid up until the time of the injections and that Double D failed to inform them of their horses' injuries until three days after the injections, misrepresented the conditions of the animals, and failed to obtain "timely and appropriate" veterinary care, according to the article.
Additionally, the article said that in the countersuit, "In addition to claims of negligence, misrepresentation, and breach of contract, the Jacksons are suing Double D under the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act. They claim the farm and its agents 'committed unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce.' "
According to the Kentucky State Police in Frankfort, Ky., the case is still under active investigation, and no new information can be shared. The former investigator on the case was recently promoted to the state governor's security detail, so two new investigators are on the case.
Additionally, both the Jacksons and the Lopezes have private investigators on the case.
Last year, it was written that toxicology reports on tissue from the injured horses' legs and blood samples were inconclusive. Veterinarians and members of the media have speculated that anything from a household chemical to cobra venom could have caused the injuries.
Mack Rayburn, a detective with the Kentucky State Police post 12, said that he cannot comment on any developments the case, but that he and another detective are "still following up on some leads. I believe the momentum has kind of picked up here recently," he says, which might be attributable to recent stories in the press.
Rayburn says the case is one of many that he and other detectives are working on currently, and that he and others "try to put equal time into each case. We have dedicated a tremendous amount of time and manpower to this case," he adds.
The most recent development in the story has been Sally Jackson's intention to file a court order to have Wicked's body exhumed for necropsy. She signed a paper with the police on July 17, 2003, to have the body dug up, but she says the Lopezes (who own the property where Wicked is buried) have resisted her requests. (For more information, see www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?id=2591.)
The possible opportunity for necropsy might reveal some more clues as to what the offending substance might have been, and possibly lead authorities one step closer to apprehending the attacker.
Anyone who might have leads on the case should contact the Kentucky State Police police Post 12, Frankfort, Kentucky, and/or call 800/378-3463 or 502/227-2221 (information may be provided anonymously at these numbers), or e-mail The Horse staff, who can forward your messages directly to the detective.
About the Author
Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.
POLL: Public or Private Lands: Where Do You Ride?