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Owner, neighbours clash over health of horses near village of Erin

Equine controversy - Neighbours and local horse enthusiasts have complained that about two dozen horses on an 8th Line farm southwest of Erin are emaciated due to a lack of food. The OSPCA has visited the property, which is rented by horse owner Ian Luckett, twice within the last three weeks, but officials say there is no open investigation in connection with the Tennessee walking horses. Luckett says the horses are fine and critics are not familiar with the breed.     photo by Chris Daponte

Owner, neighbours clash over health of horses near village of Erin

by Chris Daponte

ERIN

The owner of a herd of horses here says there is nothing wrong with his Tennessee walkers, despite recent visits from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and concerns expressed by many local horse enthusiasts.

“They’re fine,” owner Ian Luckett said of the 23 horses kept on rented land on the 8th Line, southwest of Erin village. “They’re healthy. They’re in a herd environment.”

For months, and particularly over the last three weeks, neighbours and other horse enthusiasts in the municipality have expressed grave concern with the appearance of the horses, which they say are emaciated due to a lack of food.

“This whole area is up in arms,” said Lynne Hindmarsh, who owns her own equine facility a few minutes away. “[The horses] got down to eating milk weeds, which are toxic. It was so sad.”

Shelley Chadwick, who works on Hindmarsh’s farm, said some of the horses even resorted to eating their own feces.

“You could see their hips, their spine, all their ribs,” said Chadwick.

Luckett counters that Tennessee walking horse have a slimmer build than other breeds and a few ribs showing is not an indication of poor health.

Michelle Green said she was the first person to call the OSPCA to report what she perceived to be the poor condition of the horses.

“There’s no reason these horses should be in the condition they’re in,” said Green. “It’s sickening. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Kirsten Brunner, who also owns a nearby horse farm, said she has personally called the OSPCA many times.

“I don’t know why the OSPCA seems to be sputtering,” said Brunner.

Luckett said he has allowed the OSPCA to look at the horses twice within the last three weeks. In fact, on Dec. 3, while the Advertiser was visiting the 8th Line property, OSPCA agent Vicki Crocker was also on the scene.

When asked for a comment, Crocker replied, “There’s nothing to talk about.”

When Luckett said both he and the OSPCA are getting sick of the complaints about the horses, Crocker smiled and nodded in agreement.

Asked later about the OSPCA’s involvement, Luckett said, “It’s not an open investigation, it’s an open file based on all these complaints.”

OSPCA marketing and communications manager Alison Cross confirmed that assessment on Dec. 4.

“There’s no open investigation at this point in time,” said Cross. She explained the OSPCA had an agent visit the property in response to several complaints and the organization also sought the advice of an equine veterinarian who is an “expert” on horse health.

“Our duty has been fulfilled,” Cross said.

Luckett said he has sold seven of his horses and the remaining 23 are in fine health.

“A lot of what goes on is more fussing than fact,”  Luckett said of the complaints from others. “The nonsense will drive you crazy.”

Several locals have suggested there are two reasons the OSPCA has not taken action on the horses: the organization may fear further legal action from Luckett, who admitted he is suing the organization in relation to a 2010 incident, and Luckett has moved as many as 10 of the horses in the worst condition to other farms.

Luckett said he has six horses on a special diet, but denies he has moved any horses, as does Wendy Swackhamer, who works with Luckett and has been accused by several people of housing some of his horses.

“We’re not hiding anything,” Swackhamer told the Advertiser. She said she worked for Luckett in 2005 at a tack shop he owned and considers him a family friend.

“I am the one helping these horses,” Swackhamer said.

As for legal proceedings against the OSPCA, Luckett said he has filed a $2-million claim against the organization, as well as a $600,000 claim against the Ontario government, in relation to the 2010 seizure of 32 horses from a different property in Adjala-Tosorontio Township.

Cross said she does not know anything about a possible lawsuit filed by Luckett against the OSPCA.

“But that would not stop us from doing our job,” she said, adding the organization is mandated by law to look into complaints of neglect.

In regards to the 2010 incident, eventually Luckett’s horses were returned to him and, according to a Better Farming article, charges were dropped after an OSPCA official did not attend court last year.

Neighbours and horse enthusiasts point to that incident as alleged proof Luckett is a repeat offender and that the condition of horses cannot be blamed on the current hay shortage in the province.

“He’s been getting away with this for years,” said Hindmarsh.

But Luckett says OSPCA searches of the Adjala-Tosorontio property were illegal, as was the removal of his horses.

Court documents from that case show that veterinarian Dr. Andrea Malatestinic “testified that at least 50 per cent of the mares and geldings had body condition scores that were unacceptably low and since these horses did not appear to be sick, their poor body condition was due to chronic improper nutrition, which can lead to severe health problems.”

Luckett counters that Malatestinic was “not breed cognizant,” and thus not qualified to assess the health of his Tennessee walkers. He points instead to the assessment by Dr. Rex Crawford, who is familiar with the breed.

Court documents show Crawford testified that Tennessee Walking Horses are “slimmer and carry less body muscle mass ... than other breeds.”

Crawford testified that “he had not found any horse to be emaciated to the point of causing stress to the horses, but he found most of them to be thinner than ideal.”

When confronted with the conflicting accounts from two veterinarians, the Animal Care Review Board found that “Malatestinic’s eight years of exclusive equine practice would provide her with the expertise to assess the body condition of the horses, taking their breed into account, and therefore come to a reasonable conclusion as to whether or not the health and welfare of the horses necessitated their removal.”

Regardless of the 2010 incident and his pending legal action against the OSPCA, Luckett says he has voluntarily agreed to allow the OSPCA on his property because there is nothing wrong with his horses.

Hindmarsh and Chadwick however, say the horses were in such poor condition last month - including at least one unable to stand on its own - that some individuals felt compelled to throw hay, as well as some leftover kitchen scraps, over the fence to the horses.

Luckett said such actions are “really dangerous,” as they incite horses to fight over the hay, which he said was of “marginal” quality anyway. He added he also had to rescue one stallion from “choking on a rotten carrot.”

Luckett has accused some of his critics of simply wanting to acquire his horses, but Chadwick and several others scoffed at that notion.

“It would cost thousands to bring them up to an acceptable weight,” said Green.

Added Chadwick, “We offered to buy them but [Luckett] couldn’t settle on a price.”

Those willing to buy the horses say their only interest is the well being of the horses.

“If you can’t care for these horses, let them go,” said Brunner. “We’re just trying to save these animals.”

Concerned citizens say they are hopeful some media attention will help prompt the OSPCA to take action, particularly with winter approaching.

“Some of them are going to end up dying,” Green opined.

Sadly, Hindmarsh said, it would be “a blessing” if some of the horses died, given the poor conditions she said they are living in now.

“If [the OSPCA] takes the horses away, [Luckett] should never get them back. Never,” said Hindmarsh.

Yet Luckett maintains his critics are “not offering anything constructive,” and are not familiar enough with the breed to make accusations.

“They’re ignorant, they just don’t know what they’re looking at,” he said.

He added his feeding volume and schedule meets all requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the horses have immediate access to 80 acres of land, though some neighbours have pegged that figure at closer to 10 acres.

Vol 45 Issue 49

December 7, 2012

ReliableFord

Pet of The Week - Minnie

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