Plea Agreement Releases Seized Maryland Horses for Adoption


Many of the mares removed from Reinken's farm in December are now foaling.

A plea and sentencing agreement entered on April 3 in Washington County, Md. Circuit Court by attorneys for Barbara Reinken, of Sharpsburg, Md. opened the door to a new life for 70 surviving horses connected with an abuse case that began in December 2006.

According to the plea and sentencing deal submitted by attorneys Ed Button of Washington County, Md. and Charles Iannuzzi of Woodbury, N.J. on her behalf, Reinken surrendered the 70 horses to the Humane Society of Washington County. The horses are now eligible for adoption.

Reinken's attorneys also entered a so-called Alford plea to one felony count of aggravated animal cruelty including omission or neglect resulting the cruel death of an animal. Under that plea, Reinken admitted that the state possessed sufficient evidence to prove its case, but maintained she did not commit the alleged crime. The agreement also contained guilty pleas to 10 counts of misdemeanor animal neglect.

According to Joseph Michael, deputy states attorney for Washington County, Reinken was sentenced to three years incarceration for the felony, as well as 90-day consecutive sentences on the misdemeanor charges and a cash fine or $5,000. All the sentences were suspended.

"But in addition to surrendering the living horses, she was also sentenced to five years supervised probation," Michael said, "and she is prohibited from having horses on her property."

Ed Button, Reinken's attorney of record in the case, declined to comment on the plea agreement or the case in general.

A total of 75 horses were seized from Reinken's 32-acre farm in December 2006 by animal welfare officials from the Humane Society of Washington County. Of those horses, according to humane society spokesperson Katherine Cooker, one died in transit and four were euthanatized due to their poor condition at the time of seizure. The remaining 70 horses, including a number of pregnant mares, have remained under the humane society's jurisdiction since their impoundment. They have been maintained at separate locations including Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Md.

"This is wonderful news for the horses because now they can move on and find families and start new lives," said Kathleen Schwartz, co-founder of Day End Farm Horse Rescue where she and staff have been caring for 22 of the rescued horses including three pregnant mares.

According to Schwartz, the horses in her care were in "rough' shape when they arrived in December.

"Now they've all had training, had their feet trimmed, have been wormed and have had their feedings so they've put weight on," Schwartz said.

Cooker said the horses located at other farms are also faring well. One stallion has been kept separate from the rest of the rescued horses because he has not been socialized, she said.

The horses' plight garnered widespread media attention partly because the seizure was the largest in the history of the Humane Society of Washington County, and partly because of the massive effort and financial cost of rehabilitating the rescued horses.

In the nearly five months the Reinken case was pending, Cooker estimates the cost of rehabilitating and maintaining the horses at $80,000.

"And all the numbers are not in for the medical costs," she said. "We're estimating the costs will reach $100,000."

The humane society and others who provided care for the horses got help through financial and material donations including in excess of 2,000 pounds of hay contributed by individuals and delivered via an area volunteer group that came to be known as "Hay Angels," established by Fran Burns and Maureen Haley.

"The Humane Society was in no way equipped for this," Burns said. "They don't even have a horse trailer. It's been a massive undertaking for everyone."

But while Burns said the plea and sentencing agreement brought a welcome end to the case, she expressed disappointment that penalties for Reinken weren't more stringent.

"This was the best news we could have gotten because it was the best for the horses, and the horses were the most important issue," Burns said. "These horses were left in a field to die. This stuff shouldn't be happening in the first place."

Burns said she hopes the Sharpsburg case will encourage law makers to write legislation stiffening penalties for animal abuse cases. In the meantime, Washington County Humane Society executive director Paul Miller says his organization is now focused on obtaining quality adoptions for the horses. And though no specific information about the horses could be released until the case was resolved, volunteers who helped care for them have already expressed adoption interest.

"We have had some interested parties inquire about adopting some of the horses," he said. "For now, we have to catalog the horses for age, gender and breed; work up some kind of description of each one and try to determine what level of training, if any, they have had. There's still a lot to do."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners