A horse trainer accused of causing the September 2013 training death of the reining horse, Bella Gunnabe Gifted, pleaded guilty to felony animal cruelty Tuesday. North Carolina resident Mark Arballo entered his plea at a readiness conference in California.
Although a felony, Arballo pleaded guilty to California penal code § 597(b). It does not contain the language that Arballo had malicious intent, unlike California penal code § 597(a), which he was charged with in September 2014.
Bella Gunnabe Gifted was a six-year-old reining derby horse owned by Arballo’s client, Martha Torkington. Arballo, who resided in San Diego at the time, left Bella “bitted up” in a curb bit, alone in a solid round pen for a hour and a half.
From afar, dressage trainer Bethany Wallace saw Arballo enter the pen. She realized the mare was down when she saw him “beat her” to try to get her up. The blue-eyed Quarter Horse mare was discovered on the ground, still tacked, her nose mutilated, bleeding, and blood was coming out of her ear, according to Wallace. The rein she was tied around with was broken.
About two hours after Bella was found, the mare was euthanized due to her injuries.
Wallace relocated her training business to Oakdale, but testified for the prosecution at Arballo’s preliminary hearing last month. “I am so relieved that justice is being served and I know that a felony animal abuse conviction is going to stop him from being able to show horses in … recognized horse shows.”
Deputy District Attorney Vanessa Gerard prosecuted the case for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. She told Rate My Horse PRO, “I am really happy he took responsibility and admitted what he did. This case was important for our office. It was unique due to the training scenario.” Gerard said it was nice seeing Bella’s supporters from the community come out.
Arballo is scheduled for sentencing on May 21st. He faces up to three years in prison.
Gerard says her office is asking for prison time and no training of horses while he is on probation. The prosecution may also ask for restitution.
Arballo is represented by criminal defense attorney Brad Patton. A message left for Patton was not immediately returned.
Wallace says she does have reservations. “I am concerned that, if he does not suffer more severe consequences … this conviction may still not be effective enough to actually stop him from being able to train other peoples’ horses for profit…” She adds, “there are many horse owners out there that do not thoroughly research the trainers that they are paying to train their horses and I do hope that changes!”
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