DAVIE – One horse owner is sleeping in her barn at night. Others are patrolling paddocks and pastures, shotgun at the ready.
They know someone is out there preying on horses, killing the majestic animals for their meat. And they’ll do anything to protect their own.
“Somebody is creeping in under the dark of night, and they’re bold enough to actually butcher them on the owner’s property,” said Laura Bevan, a Tallahassee-based spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States.
Since January, 19 horses have been slaughtered — 17 in Miami-Dade County and two in Miramar. In the most recent incident, a mare was butchered in front of her foal.
“That’s cold-hearted,” said Bevan, who urges horse owners to do whatever they can to secure their property. Lock gates. Install floodlights near barns. Bring horses closer to home rather than leaving them in pastures.
Davie Mayor Judy Paul, who owns two horses and a donkey, can’t fathom walking into her barn to find her “children” chopped to pieces.
“I get sick to my stomach thinking what if it was me coming out and finding my horse like that,” she said this week.
Paul wants to start a townwide “Barn Watch” program to help protect local horses from harm. The town plans to discuss solutions to the problem during a meeting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at Town Hall, 6591 Orange Drive.
Jennifer Swanson, co-founder of the Pure Thoughts horse rescue group, fears the horse killers may have set their sights on horse farms in Palm Beach County.
Her rescue group, with more than 100 horses at farms in Loxahatchee and Wellington, offers the animals free to a good home. Lately, she’s been getting inquiries from Miami callers who say they don’t care if the horse can be ridden or not. One woman said she’d take a horse with three broken legs as long as it was between the ages of 2 and 10 — considered prime years by horse-meat eaters.
“We’ve gotten a lot stricter on our adoptions,” said Swanson.
In Pompano Beach, horse owners at Sand and Spurs Equestrian Park want more security following the string of horse killings. Horses at the city park are left unguarded at night, and some say the unlocked gate is not enough to keep out predators.
“Anyone can come in here late at night, put a horse on a trailer and take him out and butcher him,” said Sharon Rhoades, of Lighthouse Point, who boards her horse there. “It just chills me to the bone.”
Since the killings began, Jessica Willis started boarding her horse at a stable in Davie, thinking it safer because the ranch owner lives on the property.
“There’s always somebody here,” said Willis, a nursing student from Davie. “If you come down that road, chances are somebody is going to see you. If anything happened to my horse, I would flip out … She’s like my child.”
Should anyone dare break into Parkland’s Second Chance for Horses Rescue, they might find themselves staring down the wrong end of a gun.
“If anyone comes out to my farm, I’ll just shoot them and ask questions later,” said Second Chances owner Matthew Seacrist, whose farm is home to 14 horses at the moment.
His other weapons: Security cameras.
“No one can come on or off the property without being on camera,” he said.
If captured, the poachers could face charges of animal cruelty, burglary, criminal mischief and grand theft.
Anyone with information about the case can make an anonymous call to Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477), Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS (8477), or Palm Beach County Crime Stoppers at 800-458-TIPS (8477).
Susannah Bryan and Jessica Carballo South Florida Sun Sentinel