In Depth: What's To Become Of The Horses?
WUKY's Samantha Lederman continues to follow the saga surrounding 43 abandoned horses from a farm in Mercer County, particularly those rescued and rehabilitating at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington. On Friday August 26 the last load of horses left the farm in question where the hope is that they'll all eventually find new homes. However, the when and how of that happening may still take time to sort out.
We talked with Rusty Ford, who has worked for the State Vet’s office at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture since 1984. He was on the scene in Mercer County evaluating the horses at their worst at the end of June, helping to manage their rescue and ongoing care, and has gone above and beyond on their behalf since then.
Less inspiring is the State’s judicial system that allowed the horses to languish on the Mercer County farm in such appalling conditions for so long. On June 3rd the Department of Agriculture Investigator and Deputy State Vet first saw the horses and identified the problem. The horses were declared abandoned on June 9th, but it wasn’t until June 29th that the Mercer County Attorney finally gave his permission for the most at risk horses to be moved.
The relief effort has been co-ordinated by the Thoroughbred Charities of America, which normally operates akin to the United Way. Over the last 26 years the TCA has granted over $21million to more than 200 thoroughbred related organisations ranging from retirement, re-training and re-homing, research, backstretch and farm employee programs and therapeutic riding programs. Jumping in from the get-go with cash, hay, feed, and donations in kind to rescue the Mercer County horses was a massive departure. So overwhelming was the response that TCA adapted to create it’s Horses First Fund for exactly this and future similar emergency.
Luckily the Mercer County horses are in good enough shape thanks to the enormous generosity of so many, that this has now morphed from a rescue mission into a sustaining one.
Again, this is where the state lets them down. According to the Animal Legal Defence Fund, Kentucky has ranked 50th among the 50 states for the last nine years on it’s strength of laws against animal cruelty. Chuck Borell who was listed as the owner of Beacon Hill, LLC that leased the Mercer County farm has been arrested on 43 counts of animal cruelty and released on bail. His daughter Maria Borell, listed as manager and trainer, was reportedly last seen in North Carolina. Kentucky has a warrant for her arrest but animal cruelty is just a misdemeanour and so she will not be extradited. The horses are listed on the Dept of Agriculture’s website, on the stray and abandoned animals pages. Technically they should be available for adoption but the ongoing legal wrangles over proof of ownership are complicating the matter further. If there is a silver lining at all to this mess, it’s that it might enact change.
Ford is the public face, visiting the horses multiple times a week, advocating for them tirelessly and it’s obvious to see that he’s become attached to them, but with summer practically over and no real resolution in sight, it’s important to remember that there are still volunteers such as Angie Cheak in Mercer County taking care of those horses there every day, and that their needs are still great. The crisis may be over for now, but the situation remains serious. When, how or where that will be, as Ford says, is up to the judicial process.