The vicious horse case

by George Looby, DVM

A case presently under review by the Connecticut Supreme Court could have far-reaching implications for the horse owners of Connecticut and, if carried to a possible ultimate conclusion, the equine industry throughout the U.S. In this case, a young boy was bitten by a horse and when the case was brought to trial the Appellate Court hearing the case ruled that horses are “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.”

This case had its origin when a father and his young son went to purchase plants at Glendale Farms in Milford, CT, owned by Timothy Astriab. Adjacent to the store is boarding stable also owned by Astriab, where the boarders have access to a corral, which was posted with signs cautioning visitors not to feed or pet the horses. Upon completion of his purchases, Anthony Vendrella took his son out to look at the horses and held his son up so the child could feed or pet the horses. At this time a horse named Scuppy came over and bit the boy on the cheek, removing a large area of skin. This incident occurred in May of 2006.

In May of 2008 the original documents claiming damages were filed with the court. Continuances by the Plaintiff, Mr. Vendrella, delayed the first hearings until 2010 when the court ruled in favor of the defendant, Mr. Astriab, thus no vicious horses. An appeal was filed with the Appellate Court which heard the case in 2010, this time ruling in favor of the plaintiff, from which came the vicious horse decision.

The Connecticut Horse Council (CHC) is an organization composed of horse owners and enthusiasts which serves to represent all matters relating to horses and their owners within the state. The CHC first became aware of this case in 2012 when the case went to the Supreme Court. Aware of the potential negative impact of an adverse decision by the court, then CNC President Amy Stegall contacted Attorney Doug Dubitsky, an equine lawyer and a member of the CHC. Mr. Dubitsky suggested that the Supreme Court be approached to obtain permission to file a friend of the court brief (amicus brief) stating that if horses were declared vicious animals the impact on the equine industry in the state would be crippling both legally and economically. However, the costs associated with filing such a brief was beyond the means of the CHC. President Stegall then began a search for funds to help defray the cost of legal fees and found a supporter in the Connecticut Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau provided the funding to support the cause.

The amicus brief contained some interesting supporting statistical data regarding the horse industry in both the state and nationally. It is estimated that there are some 53,000 horses in the state and it is again estimated that the expenses incurred by each owner for each horse is over $12,000 per year. The best estimates again suggest that there are some 550 horse related businesses in Connecticut which, on average, produce a net income of $70,000 per enterprise. Taking these numbers in total suggests that the horse industry contributes over $220,000,000 annually to the states gross domestic product.

The brief was filed with the Supreme Court and a hearing was held on Sept. 23, 2013 with the court hearing arguments from both parties. Now it is estimated that it will take between three and six months before a decision is rendered.

The CHC and the CFBA remain cautiously optimistic that a favorable verdict will be rendered but in the event of an unfavorable one, the involved parties should be positioned to continue their fight both legally and legislatively. If an unfavorable verdict comes down and horses are determined to be vicious animals, they would become uninsurable and any and all uses would be affected. Training and boarding stables, therapeutic riding, horse camps, and trailing riding among others would be impacted. For those readers who would like to have more information about this important case please feel free to contact the president of the CHC, Anthony J. Mastele, by email at president@cthorsecouncil.org or the Connecticut Farm Bureau at www.cfba.org .

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