Eventing schoolmaster left dead on roadside
“He struggled so long. I can’t imagine his fear,” says Dia Frost of her daughter’s former eventing schoolmaster. “He didn’t need to die that way.”
After more than 12-years of ownership, Frost says she was excited the Irish gelding named Doubly Courageous, also known as Pete, was headed to his forever home in Texas. “He was still a pleasure to so many.”
The 16.3hh bay with the distinctive long thin blaze was still schooling 3’ jumpers and dressage. In his younger years, the gelding successfully competed with professional event rider Peter Green through the Advanced level. His future looked bright at 22-years-old as he moved into the next phase of his life.
Kathryn Roan was preparing for Pete’s arrival at her Texas farm. She hired a Texas-based horse shipper after learning about the company from the boarding stable owner where Pete’s former owner kept him in Ocala.
Amy Glick of Zamira Arabians in Ocala says she never used the company, but her customers had. Roan says she was told the haulers were scheduled to deliver a mare and foal to Glick’s farm, and could pick-up Pete and haul him to Texas.
Hitchin A Ride Transport, owned by Gary and Janie Lyn Skelton, arrived at Glick’s Ocala stable on Halloween night. The pair loaded Pete, and although he was pawing initially, Glick says when they pulled out of farm’s long drive around 9 p.m., he was quiet.
A little more than an hour later, at 10:17 p.m., Glick says she received a call from Janie Skelton. Glick claims Skelton said, we have a problem; the horse is down in the trailer. One leg is in the window and one is in the partition. Glick says she received photos of Pete via text messages. Blood, already dry, marked Pete’s struggle. Glick called the shippers back. She says they told her they removed Pete from the trailer with a rope. “She said he couldn’t get up, but she didn’t know why,” says Glick.
Glick made the decision to call Pete’s former owner, Frost, to let her know what was happening.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Skelton told Glick that Pete was dead. “She said he rolled on his side, shuttered, and died,” says Glick. “I said, are you sure he is dead? … and she told me he wasn’t breathing.”
A veterinarian never came to help Pete.
Hitchin A Ride Transport left Pete dead on the side of the road.
The company never contacted Roan, Pete’s new owner. Consequently, the horse transport company failed to tell her about the incident, his death, or ask what she would like done with his body. As a result, Roan says she received the information third-hand.
Roan says she immediately called the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department. The responding deputy tells us he confirmed the horse’s death by finding the equine’s body along the roadside. He detailed the gelding’s visible injuries. “He had a gash over his eye and marks on his leg.”
Roan called Skelton about 1 a.m. Saturday. “She answered the phone, Hello, Kathryn – so quite clearly she had my number…”. Roan says Skelton claimed they went around a corner, and the trailer felt odd. When the horse haulers arrived at their next pickup location, Skelton said Pete was hung-up. Roan says Skelton told her they attempted to call a veterinarian, but no one called them back.
“I became suspicious,” Roan says of the shippers. “Their real lack of professionalism and compassion are what I find appalling.”
Peter Green, who served as the U.S. Eventing Selector Committee Chairman, imported Pete to the states 15-years-ago. He told us the news of the gelding’s death ruined his day. “I see stupidity every day. The horses end up being sacrificed.”
A necropsy reveals Pete was trapped for a “prolonged period of time,” which caused his death. Kevin Harbin, DVM performed the post-mortem examination. His report states the gelding had severe bruising of the poll area, bruising of the left rib cage, a 15cm hematoma near the left kidney, and general blood congestion of the left side, consistent with prolonged recumbency.
The necropsy states, “given a history of having been cast in a horse trailer, the likely cause of death is shock due to trauma and prolonged recumbency.”
“Help of any kind would have made a big difference,” says Dr. Harbin. “To leave a horse flipped for an extended period of time is very life-threatening. Get them out and back on their feet, they need to be upright.”
Dr. Harbin adds, “I think it is outrageous.”
“If you have horses, things are going to happen, but it is how things are handled,” says Roan. “It was quite negligent on their part. I should have been called, but they [transporters] opted to call the barn owner. I guess that was safer or less evasive.”
Hitchin A Ride Transport
The Skelton’s own Hitchin A Ride Transport based out of Glen Rose, Texas. The company advertises reliable, dependable horse shipping with attention to detail. Their emergency protocol states “if a problem should occur with a horse, a vet is contacted at once and the owner is notified as soon as the horse is stabilized.”
Hitchin A Ride Transport is hauling horses illegally across the country, for hire, according to information obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT).
Michael Lamm, Assistant Division Administrator for Texas, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tells us that the U.S. DOT has jurisdiction over any commercial interstate hauler over 10,000 pounds. Horse transporters operating under the U.S. DOT’s authority have minimum obligations to remain operational. Some of those responsibilities include carrying at least $750,000 in liability insurance, keeping equipment that passes regular inspections, keeping a logbook, and undergoing random drug screenings.
Horse owners have 60 days to file a complaint with the FMCSA office in the illegal horse operator’s state. The FMCSA investigates complaints which may result in penalties including fines, a shutdown order, and bringing the company into compliance, according to Lamm.
Roan says she thought she did sufficient due diligence, although she admits she didn’t ask about a U.S. DOT Number because she didn’t realize it mattered.
“I hope this incident makes people stop, think. Anyone can be a “horse hauler,” says Roan.
Horse Transporter 101
What questions do you need to ask before hiring a horse transporter? And how can you tell the difference between a licensed horse transporter that is legal to haul others’ horses and a horse transporter that is not?
Professional hunter/jumper trainer and USEF ‘R’ licensed judge, Carol Dean-Porter co-owns Porter Horse Transportation which is based out of California, with her husband, Dan Porter.
Dean-Porter recommends asking a few specific questions to help ensure you’re hiring a certified horse transportation industry professional:
- If traveling Interstate (ie, across state lines), do they have an active U.S. DOT number? MC Number?
- What amount of commercial liability insurance does the company carry?
- Does the company have cargo insurance?
- Does the driver have a CDL (Class A or B)?
- What kind of rig do they haul horses in? Last time inspected? How tall? Stall width?
- What is driver’s horse experience and horse shipping experience? Safety record?
- How often do they stop to check horses? Do they overnight? Where?
- Request a copy of the contract and ask questions regarding payment details.
Dean-Porter says when looking to hire a licensed horse transporter, a good indicator is that if the rig does not have the company name, home-base location, and U.S. DOT Number on it, the company is hauling illegally.
Illegal shippers may advertise being insured, but Dean-Porter says they generally utilize non-commercial insurance. “If you knowingly put your horse on an illegal shipper, his insurance won’t pay if he injures a person or damages property. And you can be held liable.”
If your insured horse is being shipped by an illegal shipper, the insurer may deny the claim, according to Dean-Porter.
U.S. DOT’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System offers a company snapshot of authorized carriers. As a result, horse owners can go to www.safersys.org to search by name, U.S. DOT Number, or MC Number.
When attempting to obtain a comment for this article from the Skeltons the person that answered the phone hung up. They did not return our subsequent phone messages.
Roan says, “I hope that people learn from my misfortune.”