Horse Connected to New York Cruelty Case Dies

A hotly contested, high-profile horse cruelty case involving the removal of more than 70 animals from Morgan Horse trainer Beth Hoskins' Erie County, N.Y., farm in 2010 became more controversial this week after an animal connected to the case died while residing at a foster stable staffed by Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Serving Erie County, N.Y. employees.

The SPCA Serving Erie County removed 73 allegedly neglected horses from Hoskins' Aurora farm in March 2010. All the animals were placed under SPCA care.

Hoskins was later charged with a total of 74 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case remains pending.

During the course of the case New York State Supreme Court Judge Joseph R. Glownia later ordered the SPCA to return 40 of the removed horses to Hoskins. Animal Welfare authorities are monitoring Hoskins' care of those animals. The remaining 33 animals were placed in SPCA foster homes.

In a Jan. 4 statement posted on the SPCA Serving Erie County website, the agency announced that one of the horses, an approximately 21-year-old Morgan mare named Ariel, died on Jan. 3. According to the statement, the mare had suffered from various medical issues since the summer of 2011. 

Gina Browning, SPCA spokeswoman, later said that the mare had exhibited pain in one of her legs.

"Hoskins chose steroid treatment for the pain," Browning said.

Browning said that before it’s death, the mare was eating and drinking normally. On the day it died, the animal was in a pasture attended by an SPCA member when it ran into a fence around the pasture twice.

"When she ran the first time our staff member ran after her, and by the time she caught up, Ariel was up and ran into the fence a second time," Browning said.

The SPCA transported the mare to Cornell University for necropsy to determine the exact cause of death, the statement said, adding that Hoskins was trying to prevent the necropsy from taking place.

"At the time of this writing, Hoskins is in the process of trying to stop this necropsy for reasons unknown," the statement said.

Hoskins' attorney Thomas Eoannou challenged the SPCA's statement about the incident and its claim that his client was attempting to block the necropsy: "We're not trying to stop the necropsy from taking place. We're just trying to find out what really happened here."

Eoannou said that on Jan. 4 he successfully petitioned the State Supreme Court to allow an independent veterinarian to observe the necropsy and obtain samples gleaned from it.

Eoannou also suggested the statement misrepresented the animal's age and did not disclose details surrounding the incident: "She was 18 years old and was let out alone in an icy pasture on the coldest day of the year. She crashed through a fence and broke her neck."

Eoannou also said the SPCA notified him and Hoskins after the mare had been transported for necropsy, denying Hoskins the opportunity to view the animal’s remains before they were removed.

On Jan. 6, Browning said that the SPCA had received verbal word from Cornell University that the mare died of a broken neck in connection with running head first into a fence around the pasture.

"Doctors have also noted possible brain lesions," Browning said. "Brain lesions could potentially lead to a horse’s abnormal behavior."

A written report of the necropsy’s initial findings is expected early next week, Browning said. Histopathology reports on possible lesions will be returned shortly thereafter, she said.

Eoannou also said the SPCA notified him and Hoskins after the mare was transported for necropsy, denying Hoskins the opportunity to view the animal before it was removed.

While the necropsy is pending, Eoannou promised further litigation if results reveal that if neglect contributed to the mare's death.

"My client has had 120 inspections and not one violation," Eoannou said. "If we find out the incident was caused by neglect, the SPCA has just bought itself another lawsuit."

Browning said the remaining horses in SPCA care are healthy.

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.

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