CANFIELD, Ohio – Thirteen horses were hauled back to Thomas Skelton’s Canfield area farm June 18, but veterinarians who inspected the horses both in foster care and at the farm since their return say some of them are in worse shape now than when they were taken.
Humane agent Tami White and equine veterinarians David Swaney and Mel Beard examined and scored the animals on body condition June 21 at the Skelton farm.
Fifteen horses, with various levels of alleged starvation and sickness, were seized Oct. 26, 2006, from the farm.
A veterinarian accompanied sheriff’s deputies and volunteers to the farm after Kimberly Culler of Lisbon filed a complaint about conditions there with the sheriff’s department.
Culler previously told Farm and Dairy she did not board horses at the facility but had accompanied a friend to the farm one time before alerting authorities.
Culler boarded three of the horses during the investigation.
Of the 15 horses taken, 13 belonged to Skelton. Two other horses taken belonged to individuals who boarded them at the Skelton farm.
Two of Skelton’s horses were euthanized shortly after the farm raid.
Both veterinarians said the body condition did improve on some of the horses, but many went downhill overall in the seven months they were in foster care.
“On average, a lot of them are beat up, skinned up,” said Beard, who is a track veterinarian at The Mountaineer race track and previously was a horse trainer.
Two of the most serious injuries the vets said occurred during foster care include a filly with a large open wound on her neck where she was bitten by a stallion also taken from the farm; and another horse blinded by an eye injury.
Farm records show the blinded horse was boarded at the Culler farm.
Culler confirmed that the horse was injured while under her care, and said that she did seek veterinary care when she discovered the injury.
“Horses are horses, you can’t stop them from getting hurt,” Culler said.
The horse with the neck wound was fostered on the farm of Rob and Karrin Campf near Salem, according to barn records at the Skelton farm. A message left for Karrin Campf was not returned.
Both veterinarians said some of the horses’ gums had poor capillary refill, a measure of overall heart, kidney and liver function sometimes attributed to poor nutrition.
Other injuries noticed on the horses were unkempt hooves, bone bruises, stifle injuries and herd marks.
Skelton said he’s angry about the condition of the horses, but even more upset about the apparent lack of care many of them had while in foster care with people who said they had the animals’ best interest at heart.
“They say they want to teach people a lesson about care [by taking the animals]. They did all this for what purposes?” he asked.
“When someone else’s horse is in your barn, you would think you would take extra precautions that something like this doesn’t happen,” said veterinarian David Swaney, who has been treating horses for more than 40 years in the New Wilmington, Pa., area.
“When they come back as beat up as they are – if you were paying someone to take care of your horses and they ended up like this, you’d be madder than hell,” Mel Beard said.
Beard and Swaney said together they visited all the horses in foster care approximately two to three weeks after they were seized, and did the same examinations on them at that time.
Both veterinarians agreed that while those who cared for the horses during the investigation had the best of intentions, “some of their facilities were not appropriate to house horses, let alone a Thoroughbred.”
The vets also noted in their October reports that some of the horses seized were in good condition and should not have been taken.
Still to come
The horses were returned to Skelton after he reached a plea agreement on animal cruelty charges earlier this month in Mahoning County court.
Skelton is exploring options to file civil charges against his accusers.
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