Saddlebred Attacks: What Really Happened?

A year after five American Saddlebreds were brutally attacked in Kentucky, there have been no arrests, and many questions remain unanswered. Only two of the five horses survived the ordeal, one of which made a dramatic comeback last fall to finish second in a major competition. The attacks have generated a $100,000 reward offer, state legislation, lawsuits, and continuous investigation. (See www.TheHorse.com/sbreds for archived stories.)

The victims' left front pasterns were injected with a necrotizing substance sometime on June 28-29, 2003, in their stalls at Dave and Dena Lopez' Double D Ranch in Versailles, Ky. Their injuries were discovered June 30, setting into motion a whirlwind of veterinary care that included revolutionary growth factor treatments and hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, an around-the-clock investigation by the Kentucky State Police, and distress for the animals' owners.

A reward fund was set up 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 the size of one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch in diameter where the as yet unidentified substance killed the tissue. The wounds caused extreme pain, forcing the horses to shift their weight to their opposite forelegs, making laminitis a threat. Two of the horses, including Meet Prince Charming (a gelding owned by Dena Lopez) and Wild Eyed and Wicked (owned by Sally Jackson of Overland Park, Kan.), were euthanized on July 17, 2003, because they foundered in those overloaded right forelimbs. A third horse (Kiss Me, a mare owned by Jane Burkhemper) was euthanized July 18. A fourth victim (Sassational, a filly) had a less serious injury, and she was back to work by late July 2003.

According to Sassational's owner, Dena Lopez, the filly is in foal. She 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 victim, Cats Don't Dance, is also owned by Jackson. While his injury was severe, the persistence of treating vets prior to and during his lengthy stay at the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary hospital in Lexington helped Cat recover. He still has some loss of feeling in the injured area that could be permanent. But, last November, Cat returned to the show ring with Jackson in Kansas City, Mo., placing second in his class at the United Professional Horsemen's Association/American Royal National Championship.

Trainers at Peeper Ranch in Kansas City are working Cat now because Jackson has vowed not to ride again until the attacker is caught.

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. According to the Jacksons and Lopez, Burkhemper has been finishing up paperwork for Kiss Me's claim.

Hoping to prevent similar attacks in the future, the Jacksons passed around petitions to equine industry members to encourage legislators to pass a bill that would make cruelty to any livestock a felony. Members of the Kentucky State Legislature made this bill a reality for livestock animals worth $1,000 or more in April 2004.

Lawsuits between Double D and the Jacksons have been filed related to the case and are pending (see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?id=5070).

The Investigation

According to the Kentucky State Police in Frankfort, Ky., the case is under active investigation and no new information can be shared. The Jacksons and the Lopezes have private investigators on the case.

Thus far, toxicology reports on tissue and blood samples from the injured horses were inconclusive in determining what was injected into the legs.

Mack Rayburn, a detective with the Kentucky State Police Post 12, said he and another detective are "still following up on some leads. I believe the momentum has picked up here recently," he says, possibly due to recent stories in the press.

The most recent development was a motion filed on Aug. 2 by the Jacksons' lawyers for an order to have Wicked's body exhumed for necropsy (see page 14). A necropsy might reveal clues about the offending substance, and possibly lead authorities to the attacker.

Anyone with possible leads on the case should contact the Kentucky State Police Post 12 in Frankfort, or call 800/378-3463 or 502/227-2221 (leads may be given anonymously there), or e-mail The Horse staff (schurch@TheHorse.com), who can send your messages directly to the detectives.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

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.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners