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Horse Attack Saddens SPIRIT Volunteers

The volunteers who work with the SPIRIT Open Equestrian Program are upset about three of the program's horses being slashed, but uplifted by the support the local community has shown.

Jeff Wallace thought Thursday morning was just like any other day as he arrived at the paddock adjacent to to feed the SPIRIT Open Equestrian Program’s six horses.

SPIRIT, a nonprofit organization, provides horseback riding lessons for children and adults with disabilities. When Wallace walked over to the horses everything seemed normal at first, until he realized three of them—Spirit, Lucinda and Tess—had been hurt.

At first Wallace, seeing only Spirit’s gash, thought the horse had caught herself on the fence but found nothing that could have given her the cut. Upon inspecting Lucinda and Tess, he realized something was awry and contacted the program’s executive director, Davorka "Dada" Suvak.

The animals were taken to the vet where it was discovered they had been slashed on their hindquarters with a knife sometime in the night.

Spirit has three cuts on her left hindquarters, Lucinda has one on each side of her hindquarters and Tess received a cut on one of her back legs. Wallace said the veterinarian believes Tess wasn’t cut higher because she’s the most skittish of the three and may have tried to kick the suspect.

“The shame of it is these horses are used to teach kids,” Wallace said.

Linda Trochim, a therapeutic riding instructor with the program, said the horses have wonderful temperaments because they were trained to work with children who may scream or fuss.

“They would let someone walk up to them and hurt them,” Trochim said. “That’s what’s so sad.” None of the injuries were life threatening, but she said she hopes the injuries don’t cause any chronic issues for the animals.

Trochim said the incident not only hurts the horses, but the volunteers who care for and love them, and the children who use them for their lessons. “We don’t need kids to know that there’s that kind of cruelty in the world,” she said.

Suvak said it’s only been a day since the incident happened and they are still in shock. She said it’s a scenario no one would have imagined, but they have seen an outpouring of support from the community. She also worries that the person who did it is still out there.

The slashing doesn’t seem to have hurt the horses' temperaments, though. They still openly walk up to their caretakers and the SPIRIT volunteers when their names are called or simply to receive a pat on the nose.

Suvak said they are working to try to continue their lessons. Two of the horses hurt are used for smaller children who are involved in the SPIRIT program, so although they are able to borrow horses, they need horses of the right size as well as ones who work well with children with disabilities.

“We’re a small program,” Suvak said. “We do live for community, and the community helps us to live.” SPIRIT tries to maintain a healing environment where people can learn life skills and communication skills, she said.

Suvak said the best thing that could come out of this is letting people know that SPIRIT exists and that there are many ways to help. She said they need volunteers who can help to do everything from cleaning stalls, to working with the children in the program, to cheering on the program participants to help give them a sense of accomplishment.

To learn more about the program, visit SpiritEquestrian.org, like them on Facebook or visit their open house on May 19 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Frying Pan Farm Park. 

Jamie April 28, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Where are the cameras? We have now become a camera society and this would seem a good time in installing camera's. I strongly disagree with Trochim when she remarked we don't need kids to know that there is this kind of cruelty in the world. Yes, we do need kids to know the dangers and pitfalls of life!!! It very well might save their life and kids are more with it than given credit for. Educate them. Don't hide the truth. I can't stress enough however the need for surveillance camera's. Who knows now that people are aware. Something greater could happen.
Scott April 28, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Jamie, Look at the attachment below: http://spiritequestrian.org/spiritedriders.html These children that participate in the program are either physically or mentally challenged and or both. What Trochim is saying is they want to protect the children from this hateful act as many simply will not be able to process the information and may become emotional and thereby hampering the therapy ride they are scheduled for. The information is out for the parents of these special children and they in time can explain the cruel act that was done to the horse they ride; but it could take a very long time for the child to comprehend. In the mean time the child needs the ride therapy to continue to gain the benefit of the program. My Nephew has Down Syndrome and is active in a ride therapy program and it has done wonders for his motor skills, but moreover he has given him some level of independence for the first time in his life and as a result his self esteem soared! I am all for banning together and help raise money for security cameras! Lets send donations to the group. They work with a small budget and the vet bills are a unexpected expense. Donations: http://spiritequestrian.org/donations.html Best wishes to all at Spirit!!
Eliana April 28, 2012 at 11:55 PM
I'm eliana and I volunteer there today was my first day and Sara (one of the care instructors) told me about it and today a very nice lady came and gave us a box of treats and some blankets for Tess, lucinda, and spirit. Luckily, the other horses, Charlotte(Charlie), glory, and infinity(fin) weren't hurt but spirit, the icon for spirit equestrian got the worst of it I think because she's the icon. spirit equestrian has a website on blogspot and it has Dada's email. Donations are appreciated.
Eliana April 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM
@Jamie There are gonna be cameras put up but they need to raise the money.
Stella McEnearny April 29, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Good point, Jamie. The more cameras, the better...especially in a tragic, sickening instance such as this one.
Connie Rohr May 02, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I agree that cameras are necessary! Just one camera even, at the entrance to start with, and then build on that. Also, were the horses out in the field, or were they in their stalls when they were hurt?
A. Ford June 25, 2012 at 08:20 PM
I am so sorry to hear something like this has happened. Whoever did this is a first class candidate for a frontal lobotomy. Hope they are apprehended immediately. My best wishes to you and the wonderful horses who do so very much for the disabled. Please do consider the security cameras.
Leslie Perales Loges (Editor) August 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Herndon Patch has an update on this story. The teen eventually charged in these attacks was convicted yesterday: http://herndon.patch.com/articles/teen-convicted-in-herndon-area-animal-slashings
Beth Lawton (Editor) August 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM
The teenager charged in the animal attacks has been convicted. Here's the latest information: http://herndon.patch.com/articles/teen-charged-in-animal-attacks-at-frying-pan-park

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