Nov 15, 2013
05:22 AM
Connecticut Today

Connecticut Horse Lovers Say ‘Vicious’ Label Would Harm Stables, Riders

Connecticut Horse Lovers Say ‘Vicious’ Label Would Harm Stables, Riders

Arnold Gold

Shannon Pleines with 14-year-old miniature pony, Sparkles (left), and Cash (right), a 6-year-old paint horse, at Shannon Equine in Woodbridge.

The neighs have it.

As horse owners await a state Supreme Court ruling on whether their animals are intrinsically vicious, area stables and riders say any decision other than “no” will have far-reaching consequences.

The tension has been building since the end of September, when the court heard arguments for and against an Appellate Court ruling that said horses are a naturally vicious species. The original case centers on a 2006 incident in which a horse at Glendale Farms in Milford bit the cheek of a 1-year-old boy.

The boy’s father had picked him up and held him up to the horse’s face. The horse was in a fenced area.

“This is one of the most ridiculous propositions I’ve ever heard,” said Butch Butterworth, owner of Giant Valley Farm in Hamden, which hosts polo matches featuring teams from throughout the region.

“I have been around horses all my life, about 70 years, and have never known any horse to be naturally vicious,” Butterworth said. “Horses respond in the way that they are treated and are basically creatures of flight, running away from trouble, not seeking trouble and being aggressive. No way that they could be classified as a naturally vicious species.”

At stake here, horse owners said, is the likelihood that insurance premiums will rise if the Appellate Court ruling stands. The state Supreme Court may not act until after the first of the year, leaving Connecticut’s horse-loving community champing at the bit for some clarity on the issue.

“That’s what’s so difficult — the waiting,” said Fred Mastele of Durham, acting president of the Connecticut Horse Council. “We’re probably going to see a lot of people move out of state.”

Mastele estimated there are 50,000 to 60,000 horses in Connecticut. They include farm horses, privately owned riding horses, therapeutic horses and animals that perform at children’s birthday parties.

If the animals are deemed potentially vicious, Mastele warned, there will be an impact even beyond a bump in insurance.

“What would happen legislatively?” he asked. “How would the state regulate how the public is to be protected? Would horse owners be required to install double fencing? No one knows. That’s one of the biggest concerns.”

Shannon Pleines, owner of Shannon Equine in Woodbridge, said it is “pathetic” that the case has reached the state Supreme Court.

“I told someone the other day, fences are now to keep the people out, rather than to keep the horses in,” Pleines said. “We’re all kind of ... hovering. If insurance rates skyrocket, it will kill a lot of the horse industry here in Connecticut. I’d have to raise all my rates.”

Pleines owns three horses and boards 15 others. She said she’s been around horses her whole life and her mother was a horse trainer.

“Horses are vicious? Are you kidding me? I’ve got a 6-year-old horse that I give 6-year-old children riding lessons on,” she said.

The Connecticut Horse Council and the Connecticut Farm Bureau filed a friend of the court brief arguing against classifying the entire species as vicious. Meanwhile, a Change.org petition against the Appellate Court ruling has reached more than 6,000 signatures.

“I’m just amazed that our courts have allowed this case to go on,” said Patti Audette, owner of B&R Riding Stables in Prospect. She owns 20 horses and has been in business for nearly 50 years.

“My horses are like my kids,” Audette said. “This isn’t the fault of the animal. You don’t pick up a small child and put it near a horse’s mouth with food in its hand. That’s common sense. If you could say horses are vicious, then you could say dogs are vicious and birds are vicious.”

For more, visit the New Haven Register online.

 

Connecticut Horse Lovers Say ‘Vicious’ Label Would Harm Stables, Riders

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