Veterinarian Fired After Finding Neglected Horses
By JOE DRAPE
Published: March 19, 2011
The veterinarian who had been evaluating hundreds of former racehorses and found that many of them needed urgent care because they were malnourished and neglected, some fatally, was fired Saturday by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
Dr. Stacey Huntington, a veterinarian based in Springfield, Mo., had examined more than 700 of the foundation’s 1,000 horses at more than a dozen farms in Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia, and had found that the foundation’s education of the caretakers and its oversight of their farms were poor.
“There were serious questions about her objectivity,” said George Grayson, who has been president of the foundation since January. “We want the vet inspections to continue, and we are putting together a list of the many qualified ones available.”
The estate of the breeder and owner Paul Mellon, which in 2001 established a $5 million endowment for the foundation and later contributed an additional $2 million, had been paying for Huntington’s evaluation. It has also spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past several months on everything from food to urgent care for the horses.
“Horses don’t lie,” said Beverly Carter, an executor of the Mellon estate. “I don’t know how they can point fingers at Stacey for the condition of the horses.”
The foundation told its farms to prohibit Huntington or any other unauthorized veterinarian from inspecting its horses unless the veterinarian is a farm’s regular veterinarian.
Huntington said that she was accompanied by a local veterinarian at each farm, and that the T.R.F. was notified of the specific concerns about each farm.
“Every veterinarian was invited to disagree with each horse’s evaluation and only one ever voiced a disagreement: he graded the horse one grade lower, slightly thinner, than I did,” Huntington said in an e-mail. “The evaluations have always been intended to help T.R.F. improve their program. I am hopeful that they will use the information to improve the care of the horses and not to indict the messenger.”
The foundation, located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is one of the largest private organizations in the world dedicated to caring for former racehorses. But despite receiving millions in donations, it has been operating at a deficit for two years, according to its financial documents. It pays its satellite farms a per diem per horse, usually $3, but has fallen behind for months and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At the 4-H Farm in Oklahoma, inspectors last month could find only 47 of the 63 retired horses that had been assigned to it. Many of those were malnourished. Huntington concluded that the rest had died, probably of neglect. When the horses were released, the 47 survivors were in such poor condition that she filed a report with the Okmulgee County sheriff’s office. Her report included photographs of the malnourished horses, three of them considered starving.
Last week, at a Kentucky farm that is supposed to receive money from the foundation, 34 horses were found in “poor” or “emaciated” condition, inspectors found. One horse had to be euthanized because of malnutrition.
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