It’s Time to Amend Desmond’s Law

Diana Urban served as state Rep. in the 43rd district for 18 years and was chair of the Committee on Children. She is now president of Protecting Kids and Pets Partnership. (Photo: Abigail Kohrs)

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Checkers, a horse in training with Alexis Wall, often stood tied to the wall of her indoor arena on a short chain with both his front feet tied together in what are called “hobbles.” Sometimes Wall tied the horse’s front foot to a hind foot and then would repeatedly run into him on another horse, and also whip him until he panicked and would often fall over. She instructed her students to do the same thing. 

Bling, another horse in training, was ridden to exhaustion. The horse suffered huge welts on its hip that were ¾-inches thick and one- to two-feet long. When asked whether the horse had hurt itself, Wall replied: “No, she ain’t listening so I have to make it painful so she will listen.”  

Scout, a miniature horse also in training, had his head slammed into the wall by Alexis. When he didn’t respond the way Wall wanted him to, she slammed him again. He was also hobbled and experienced blood seeping out of his legs.

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And then there is the palomino stallion left with his head tied to one side of his saddle, short enough that he was unable to straighten his neck, and was left without access to food or water for hours at a time. This stallion was also observed being worked to exhaustion, and was even fitted with a shock collar.

Alexis Wall has been charged and arrested on 20 counts of animal cruelty. This information is all public record on the arrest warrant. Her defense is that she is employing a training methodology called the “Vaquero Method.”

The Vaquero Method originated in Mexico over 500 years ago. Essentially, the goal of the Vaquero Method is to achieve total harmony and togetherness between horse and rider. This actually takes years to accomplish as the horse and rider go through specific phases that are not time dependent, but focus on the quality and trust achieved by this careful, sequential training. In the true Vaquero Method the horse and rider achieve a level of horsemanship where performance and communication is almost imperceptible to the observer. The training method never involves or employs violence.

Wall’s completely implausible and absurd defense cries out for an advocate to speak for the animals that have been subjected to this abuse and torture. I am the author of Desmond’s Law (PA 16-30) that puts an advocate in court for dogs and cats that are victims of pathological cruelty for precisely this reason.

The original language of the law pertained to all animals, but we compromised and cited just dogs and cats in order to get the bill passed. The law, doesn’t, however, preclude a judge from naming an advocate for animals other than dogs and cats if they believe it to be appropriate. In fact, one Connecticut judge has already used the law to assign an advocate to speak for rabbits in a particularly egregious cruelty case. 

It is time to amend Desmond’s Law so that it clearly states that judges may appoint an advocate in egregious abuse cases regardless of the animal involved. I am a trainer who has coached multiple students to championships in the equine world. I have ridden for the U.S. Equestrian Team, galloped race horses, and now run an organization that focuses specifically on protecting kids and pets from acts of violence.

Appointing an advocate in the case of horses should logically fall under the purview of Desmond’s Law. Ask anyone who has ever spent time with horses what their relationship has been with these amazing animals. Better yet, ask a veteran or a special needs person what therapeutic horseback riding has meant to them.

Ocho, another horse being “trained” by Wall, had a metal bracket locked around his nose with a rope attached to it and then tied around his body while Wall forcibly yanked on it. In another training session his tongue appeared to turn blue as his head was tied to his chest and he was gasping for air, with sweat and pinkish froth dripping from his mouth. There is actually a video of this during which a voice is heard saying, “Be careful, he might pass out.”   

Alexis Wall in her own words describes her training method: “Horses listen to pain and the pain must be great enough to make a lasting impression.”

This abuse perpetrated on horses in the guise of training–and perhaps more alarmingly, being taught to young students as acceptable–must be confronted. These horses need a voice. Desmond’s Law can provide it.