State Finds No Evidence of Animal Cruelty in Show Horse Death

The death of a Lyme show horse last month at a boarding facility in Marlborough was due to an apparent natural aneurysm and not any suspected wrongdoing, the state Department of Agriculture has concluded. 

In a 10-page report on the Sept. 3 death of Beatrix at Bridle Brook Barns, the department said it reached its conclusion based largely on statements from multiple witnesses who were at the barn that day, as well as the opinion of two veterinarians.

The veterinarians did not examine the horse’s body, and the state did not seek to have it exhumed, state Animal Control Officer Tanya Wescovich wrote in her report on the investigation, which was closed on Monday. 

“This officer’s investigation was unable to develop any evidence of animal cruelty,” Wescovich said. “Multiple witnesses have given statements in support of the good care given at Bridle Brook Barn. Therefore, there was no probable cause developed to pursue seeking a criminal search and seizure warrant which would be needed to exhume the horse for examination.”

Rebecca Wildstein, owner of Bridle Brook, said Tuesday that she was pleased “that the extensive investigation concluded what we already knew, that there was no evidence of abuse or cruelty, that the barn is run professionally and safely,” and that Beatrix died of an aneurysm.

“Like anyone else, we are all very sorry about the sudden and unexpected death of one of God’s beautiful creations, whom he chose to call away short of a full life,” she said.

Dana Ramsey Maxwell, owner of the 7-year-old champion hunter-jumper Hanoverian, said Tuesday that her first reaction to the investigation report was that “it is a creative and selective gathering of information and is sadly not an accurate report. It has many errors of names and timeline and convenient omissions.”

Maxwell filed a complaint with the agriculture department in mid-September after she and her lawyer were rebuffed in attempts to learn the location of the body, and after she called state police asking about a possible theft investigation involving the body. 

State police had initially referred her to Marlborough Police Officer Jay Kehoe, who the report said was subsequently told by Maxwell that she was “concerned about the possibility that someone had taken her deceased animal and removed the ovaries in order to use for future breeding purposes.” 

According to the report, Maxwell believed “her horse’s ovaries may have been harvested because the horse was worth a large amount of money,” and was the sole living member of a valuable genetic line.  

Maxwell told Kehoe she also was suspicious because the transporter who removed the body would not tell her where it was buried. 

Kehoe advised Maxwell to call the agriculture department as it was a civil matter, not criminal. 

According to the report, Maxwell made her initial complaint to Wescovich in a Sept. 14 phone call, and gave the following account of how she learned of the death on the morning it occurred from a woman who had been leasing Beatrix and began boarding her at Bridle Brook only four days earlier:

The woman told Maxwell that “the owner of the boarding barn where Beatrix was stabled had called her and informed her that the groom, Emanuel, was walking the horse in from pasture when she began to shake, reared up and then fell down and died.”

“Maxwell was told that both the barn owner and the lessee had called the vet (Dr. Sears from CT Equine) on separate occasions, and the vet stated that from the description of what happened, he believed that the horse had died of an aneurysm,” the report stated. 

“Maxwell informed this officer that due to the statement from the vet, Maxwell decided against having a necropsy done,” and made arrangements for a horse transporter to pick up and bury the body.

The report said Maxwell then reported that the next day the transporter “told her that she felt the horse had more blood and more bloating than she has experienced in the past and felt that her death may have been caused by humans rather than natural.”

The transporter would not tell her where the body was buried, the report quotes Maxwell, because the transporter believed Maxwell “was making a big deal out of the situation.”

In their initial Sept. 14 conversation, Wescovich said Maxwell did not express suspicion about the circumstances of Beatrix’s death, “but was just concerned about where her horse was located and if anything was done to her without her permission.”

Wescovich said she offered to help Maxwell locate the body, but that any issue of theft would be a matter for state police. 

That same day, Wescovich said, she also spoke to the transporter, who said she had buried Beatrix on private property in Washington, Connecticut. 

The transporter “claimed that the agreement she originally made with Maxwell was that the horse would be buried, but the location would not be disclosed since she was putting it on private property and the property owner did not want her to tell people,” the report said. 

The transporter agreed to possibly bring Wescovich to the burial site and exhume the body to make a positive identification, the report said. 

Wescovich then asked the transporter if she had any concerns about Beatrix’s condition when she picked up the body.

“She claimed that she did not,” the report said.

The next day, Sept. 15, Wescovich said she got an email from Maxwell asking about “the process for the investigation about the potential abuse of the horse causing her death.” 

Wescovich said she told Maxwell that no abuse investigation had begun based on their conversation a day earlier, but that she would start one. 

The officer cautioned Maxwell, however, that without a corroborating statement from the transporter or a necropsy on Beatrix, “it would be very hard to find any evidence of abuse.”

Wescovich that same day called veterinarian Dr. Thor Hyyppa, whom she described as “a very well-known equine veterinarian” who routinely handles equine cases for the agriculture department.

After giving him Maxwell’s description of the death, Wescovich said, Hyyppa stated that he felt it was consistent with what would happen with an aneurysm, and that depending on where the aneurysm occurred in the horse “there could be a very large amount of blood coming from any opening, so ears and nose, even eyes.”

On Sept. 20, Wescovich said she spoke with Kehoe, the Marlborough police officer whom Maxwell earlier had asked about a possible theft investigation involving Beatrix’s ovaries.

Kehoe, the report said, told Maxwell that she gave up her right to Beatrix’s body as property as soon as she contracted with the transporter to remove it from Bridle Brook.

“He stated that he used the analogy of putting your trash out to the curb, once you do that it is legal for anyone to go through it and take some if they wanted to,” Wescovich wrote of Kehoe’s reported conversation with Maxwell.

Two days later, Wescovich went to Bridle Brook, where owner Wildstein said Beatrix’s first few days at the stable had seemed to be going well, with the horse exhibiting some normal transition behaviors such as frequently calling out to other horses and kicking her stall door. 

Wildstein showed the officer a somewhat blurry photograph with a time-stamp of 7:05 a.m. on the morning of Beatrix’s death, which shows her in the background of a paddock with other horses. 

Beatrix is standing in the bright sun, wearing a white protective fly mask, boots and fly sheet. 

“Everything looked fine,” the report quotes Wildstein.

About 7:30 a.m., Wildstein reported, she saw Emanuel the trainer “walking Beatrix when she abruptly reared up, started shaking and then fell over.”

“Wildstein stated that she had never seen anything like that before, and the horse showed no signs of life after she fell,” with blood coming from her ears and her nose, the report said.

Wildstein stated that she immediately called veterinarian Dr. Scott Sears, who “said that it sounded like the horse had an aneurysm and that there was nothing that could be done.”

Wildstein then notified the woman leasing the horse from Maxwell, who in turn called Maxwell. 

Wildstein said she remained with the body for several hours, until being told by the woman about 11:30 a.m. that she had spoken to Maxwell and that “no necropsy would be needed and Maxwell had given permission to move the body.”

The next day, Wildstein spoke to Maxwell and said they discussed details of the case and how “Wildstein was shocked that no one responded to the farm to see Beatrix after her death.”

Wildstein also texted Maxwell the photograph of Beatrix from the previous morning in the paddock, the report said.

Wescovich said Emanuel and another trainer at the stable who witnessed Beatrix’s death gave similar accounts of her rearing up and collapsing after calmly walking moments before.

There are six surveillance cameras at the facility, the report said, one of which shows the gravel driveway where Beatrix died. 

But Wildstein reported that she had not used that and some of the other cameras in the roughly six months she had owned the stable.

Wescovich found only months-old screenshots on most of the cameras, and one supplied by Wildstein from the driveway camera showed snow on the ground and a digital message indicating that the camera was no longer operable.

Wescovich said she spoke with several current and former boarders at Bridle Brook, all of who said they had no significant issues with the generally excellent care at the facility. 

In response to a Freedom of Information request from CT Examiner, the agriculture department said they have no records of any previous inspection, complaint or investigation involving the stable or the transporter.

Wescovich said her examination of other animals at the stable also showed no evidence of any cruelty, abuse or neglect. 

“At this time, there are no other leads to pursue and therefore this case will be closed,” she wrote in her report. “However, if new evidence is brought forward in the future this investigation will be reopened.”

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