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.