Thursday, July 10, 2003

Attack on show horses upsets tight-knit saddlebred industry

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - The case of a champion show horse and four stablemates falling ill after someone injected them in a leg with an unknown substance has unnerved many in the American saddlebred industry's well-mannered world of top hats and jodhpurs.

Kentucky State Police are investigating, but no arrests have been made since Wild Eyed and Wicked, a two-time winner of the industry's Triple Crown, and each of the others suffered the injuries more than a week ago at the Double D Ranch in Versailles.

Owners and breeders at this week's Lexington Junior League Horse Show at The Red Mile harness track are struggling with the idea that an attack could occur in their genteel community, in which the high-stepping, muscular horses with long, arched necks are judged for their distinctive walking styles in divisions such as fine harness, park and country pleasure.

"Nobody in their wildest dreams would ever imagine something like this happening in our industry," said Dede Gatlin, advertising manager and technical coordinator for the Lexington-based American Saddlebred Horse Association. "This is something that families do together."

Milwaukee breeder and shower Scott Matton said he wants to win as much as anyone, but there's also a camaraderie within the industry.

"Our best friends are our biggest competitors," Matton said. "You go and fight and battle the best you can, but sabotaging somebody else's horse? I've never seen that. We are competitors, but we have to buy horses from them and they have to buy horses from us. We have to get along."

Bridget Parker, a business associate of Double D Ranch owners Dave and Dena Lopez, said police investigators have told her that they had never heard of a similar case.

Dave Lopez said that such an attack was out of character for the people he knows in the American saddlebred industry. "We're not competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars every week, like the race horses," he said. "This is more of a hobby, a love for the breed that people have had for generations.

"We feel very violated," he said. " ... What the motive was behind this, we have no idea, whether it was an attack on us, or our (horses') owners, or the horses (prior to) the competition."

Wild Eyed and Wicked - along with Cats Don't Dance, Meet Prince Charming, Kiss Me and Sassational - were in their stalls at the ranch when the injuries were discovered June 30. Each horse had a nearly identical circular wound on the back of its left front pastern, the short bone located between its hoof and ankle.

All but Sassational were supposed to compete this week in the Lexington Junior League Horse Show, a Triple Crown event which drew about 1,000 entries. Instead, they were at home under the care of veterinarians.

Struggling most to recover was the 11-year-old gelding Wild Eyed and Wicked, a top performer in the five-gait that won the breed's Triple Crown in 2000 and 2001.

Blood and tissue samples have been taken from the horses and sent for analysis to George Maylin at Cornell University, a leading expert on equine drug testing and pharmacology, to try to determine what substance was injected into the horses.

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