Former reining trainer Mark Arballo left his former customer Martha Torkington’s horse Bella “bitted up” in a curb bit leading to her death.

$160K Settlement in Reining Horse’s Training Death


The owner of the reining horse Bella Gunnabe Gifted reached a $160,000 settlement with the horse’s former trainer.

The settlement ends a tragic animal cruelty saga after Bella’s September 2013 death from a basilar skull fracture. Former reining trainer Mark Arballo left his former customer Martha Torkington’s horse Bella “bitted up” in a curb bit. The mare was alone in a solid round pen for more than an hour with her head “tied around” while he taught lessons.

The discovery of the six-year-old Quarter Horse’s body on the ground meant disaster. Unable to rise, there was blood in Bella’s ear. The sorrel mares’ eyes moved rapidly back and forth.

Bella’s euthanasia ended her suffering.

The civil case’s disposition comes months after a California court’s mandatory settlement conference seeking resolution.

The parties agreed to settlement terms at a June hearing. Torkington’s attorney sought an order for entry of judgment in late July after the defendants failed to settle.

The defendants’ inclination was to add two additional terms, court records state. North Carolina defendants Arballo and his girlfriend, Patrice Hohl, refused to sign without a confidentiality agreement from Torkington and her attorneys.

Confidentiality clauses are not required at settlement, but are bargained for terms that come with monetary consideration.

Torkington’s attorney Brian Holm of the Holm Law Group, PC says in an email to opposing counsel, “a confidentiality clause that restricts First Amendment rights is anything but standard and was not discussed with the Court…”

Holm notes confidentiality provisions are generally against public policy due to the public interest in the free flow of information developed through court proceedings, which may help other clients and could improve public safety.

The judge gave the defendants a week to sign the agreement and pay the $160,000 in his July Order meaning the defendants did not get their confidentiality clause.

The settlement notes the plaintiffs are responsible for a lien. Torkington’s property insurance carrier Markel Insurance Company asserts the lien for payments made after the loss of Bella Gunnabe Gifted.

A dismissal with prejudice was requested by plaintiffs in August.

While Arballo’s settlement is not an admission of liability in civil court, he pleaded guilty to felony animal cruelty in March 2015. Arballo, of Arballo Reining Horses, LLC, is serving a three-year probation sentence in North Carolina.

During his sentence, Arballo is not allowed to train horses.


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