Horse News

Bite by farm horse kicks off lawsuit before Conn. court on whether horses are innately vicious

Source: the Washington Post

Horses Take the Heat for Human Stupidity

dunce horseHARTFORD, Conn. — After a horse named Scuppy bit a boy in the face, a Connecticut court came to a conclusion that threw animal lovers: Horses are a naturally vicious species.

Horse owners and farmers are mobilizing as the state Supreme Court hears an appeal in the case Tuesday. Such a classification — the nation’s first, if it stands — would make owning horses uninsurable and jeopardize the state’s sizable horse industry, farmers and horse owners say.

“You could not pair children and horses, the core equestrian business nationwide that it’s all about,” said Doug Dubitsky, a lawyer who represents farmers and horse businesses.

When the boy tried to pet the horse at Glendale Farms in Milford in 2006, according to court papers, the animal stuck his neck out from behind a fence and bit the child on his right cheek, “removing a large chunk of it.”

In February 2012, the mid-level Appellate Court overturned a lower court ruling and said that testimony by Timothy Astriab, whose family owns the farm, demonstrated that Scuppy belongs to “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.”

Although he had no knowledge of Scuppy biting anyone before, Astriab testified that Scuppy was no different than other horses that would bite if a finger was put in front of him. “Significantly, Astriab acknowledged his concern that if someone made contact with Scuppy, whether to pet or feed him, they could get bit,” the justices said.

The injury suffered by the boy was foreseeable and the owners of the farm had a duty to use reasonable care to restrain the animal to prevent injury, the Appellate Court ruled.

Astriab did not return a call on Monday seeking comment.

If allowed to stand, Connecticut would be the first state to consider horses as inherently dangerous, said Dubitsky.

Horse farmers and equine enthusiasts, who cite 2005 statistics saying that the horse industry contributes about $221 million a year to the state’s economy in boarding, training, lessons and breeding businesses, are asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the Appellate Court’s decision. The Connecticut Farm Bureau and Connecticut Horse Council filed a friend of the court brief saying that under common law viciousness generally is judged individually according to age, breed and gender, not as an entire species.

Fred Mastele, acting president of the state’s horse council, said it is encouraging horse owners to attend the hearing Tuesday and support the Astriab family.

“In our opinion, horses are not vicious animals,” he said. “They are certainly not attack animals.”

Astriab had won at a lower court in 2010, when a New Haven judge sided with the horse’s owner and ruled that the child’s father, Anthony Vendrella Sr., failed to prove the owner knew of previous incidents of aggression by Scuppy.

The Superior Court judge said Astriab testified that neither he nor anyone else had ever seen Scuppy bite a person before and that in 28 years, none of the horses at the farm bit or injured anyone.

“Cats have a tendency to scratch and horses have a tendency to bite, but the plaintiffs have failed to show, as they must, that the defendants were on notice that Scuppy specifically, and not horses generally, had a tendency to bite people or other horses,” Judge Robin Wilson ruled.

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29 replies »

  1. This is a terrible injustice for the horse. I cannot think of any species that puts up with the horrors that humans put on them and still forgives …they are the opposite of vicious… they are loving and honest….. everyone should rally behind the horse and stop this.

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    • Absolutely agree with your comments here! Horses are not vicious by nature… Humans are the cause of untrustworthy behavior of horses…. Equines are extremely intelligent and learn very quickly who treats them with respect & who abuses them (whether physically or verbally)… I work at an Equine Emergency Surgical Center… These amazing creatures know in a very short time, who feeds them & who gives the meds… And they react to the humans accordingly… Their intuition is to be admired by all of humans…But some humans will never get it!!??

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    • I totally agree with you.. Equines are not a vicious species, unless they are physically tortured and abused by humans…(emotionally also).. I work at an Equine Emergency Facility in New England, and believe me, horses are so extremely intelligent. They can figure out rapidly who the people are who feed them, and who are the (dreaded techs), the ones who come in to administer the meds.. Horses are very intuitive creatures who do not deserve to be crucified… Shame on Connecticut! You are out of touch!!!

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  2. All horses bite and kick. Vicious? I think not. Are all dogs vicious, people, well sometimes we all get antsy, no? No I think the boy is entitled to some compensation but not at the cost of some barn or horse owner, we all pay insurance the courts need to not label things and get the compensation from those that charge for it.

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    • Truly. Humans are murderous. But are ALL humans murderous? No. Dogs have teeth and conversely CAN bite, but do they all? No. Cats have claws and therefore can scratch. But do they? I’m sorry for the little boy and Scuppy probably thought he was just going to pinch the child on the cheek. Human flesh tears so easily, it’s very thin….so awful this is going so far up the judicial chain.

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  3. More evidence or an organized effort to eliminate wild horses and burros as well as horse ownership impossible. Horses are not vicious, but children should be trained to pay attention to the horse’s ears. This is how they tell humans and other horses to get out of their space. It isn’t the horse’s fault the child was not being supervised by a knowledgeable adult.

    More to the point—according to Dr. Michael Hutchin’s, former Wildlife Society CEO chosen by FWS to be their expert witness in a Congressional hearing, “feral horses are not sustainable.” Given FWS and other agencies loose use of the term feral and its multiple meanings, this did not bode well even for the private horse industry.

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  4. Where was dad during all of this? This is no different than a child walking up to a restrained dog and petting it without asking permission from the owner. I guess it if the dog bites the child, all dogs are determined to be vicious. What a joke!

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  5. This is just another ridiculous law suit looking for a big pay day. Horses are no more vicious than the very common 2 & 3 year old human children that bite other children, adults and animals. Are we to label human children vicious too?

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    • I have to agree with this comment and add that children also pick up sticks and put ponies eyes out. I’ve seen this too. But to as to the comment, it was in my opinion purely negligence on past of the kids owner the parent..because the father should have been monitoring the child. There would be a dismissal if i wad the judge. My parents taught me to respect an animals space and although i got bit, there want even a thought of a law suit…people weren’t as sure happy back then. And i was always at fault for the bites, doing something that i wasn’t supposed to do. People today will sue for anything just to get a hefty payout….assholes.

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  6. The judges are innately known as horses asses–how stupid. Why would a parent let a kid close to any animal they don’t know?? Trying to get some money out of someone else for their own stupidity. I have been around horses all my life–never met an innately mean one yet and I am 77 years old.

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  7. A friend’s arab stallion once bit the top of my daughter’s head when she was 4. It was feeding time and she walked right by his stall as hay was being put in the horses feeders, he no doubt was excited about being fed and saw her hair as feed and reached over and grabbed a bite. He also had never bitten anyone before. Maybe that boy’s cheeks smelled sweet like apples or something and the horse thought it was something to eat. Everyone makes mistakes, even animals. All animals take the heat for human stupidity. I was boarding 2 horses for friends once, I’d never seen any aggression in either of these horses, then a group of neighborhood kids showed up and wanted to see the animals, when they went over to the fence where these 2 horses were the youngest one flattened her ears and lifted a hind leg and threatened to kick. The kids didn’t even notice but I did and told them all to stay away from those 2 horses. Then I found out that where these 2 horses lived previously, a couple streets over, neighborhood kids would sit up on the hill above their corral and throw rocks at them because they liked to see them run. Obviously the horses hadn’t forgotten that.

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  8. From what I have been told this suit is akin to the Pit Bull laws and is highly discriminatory. This could lead to changes in where horses are allowed to be seen by the pubic and even who can own horses. This needs to be followed and so does the money. Who would gain to a shift in the horse industry that would restrict horses? This occurred in 2006 and someone wants this to set a precedent in CT with the highest people to horse ratio in the country.

    This is not Bull Shit. This is dangerous.

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  9. This is so ignorant. Add Chihuahuas to the list, as well as any other being with teeth. When growing up, the kid next door was a biter. I had a pretty good bite mark on me. Nobody went to court. We were just careful. Sorry about the kids’ face, but seems to me there is a supervisory issue here, and the parent should have had some blame assigned to him.

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  10. I had a horse bite me on the face too, once! But it was my own fault! No serious damage, just a tiny scar. I suspect there is more to this story, than we know…sad. 😦

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  11. All horse owners should hang signs on your fences saying beware horses may bite or kick. The same way we hang warning signs on pool fences to not dive in the shallow end of the pool. It is sad that is needed and I am not sure if that would help you in particular if a horse bites some one on your farm but it couldn’t hurt. Even if your horses are sweet little butterflies. Just a precaution. We use had them on our fences and in the barn for any one to see. So when some one came to our barn they were warned.

    I was bitten once by a stud on our farm. He grabbed me by the neck!!! My dad was right there and screamed at the horse and he let go. I am lucky to be alive because he did not remove a chunk.. BUT I don’t blame the horse. He was protecting his mare even though they were not even in the same pen but just next to each other. This law suit is ridiculous!

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  12. Golly, in my 60 some odd years around horses I can think of only a very few times when one of them attempted to bite me, usually because they wanted the carrot I used to carry in my pocket when I was a teenager! I’d like to know thw whole story behind this!

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  13. Wow! I think I might have just heard the most stupid thing in the world, or, at least in the top running! Any animal can, & “might” bite, usually only when provoked, playing, or feeling annoyed or threatened. That’s why many places with animals, including horse stables, may have signs that say, “don’t put fingers in stalls”, “horses may bite” (most likely thinking your finger is a carrot), or because it was frightened, which for most horses, even the most “bomb-proofed”, doesn’t take much. Horses & kids go together like cookies & milk. More idiots out there trying to take away what so many love & respect. Horses regularly “bite” & kick at eachother while playing, or determining pecking order, it’s normal behavior. My daughter’s very sweet, playful horse nipped her boyfriend’s butt, because they were playing, & the horse either got annoyed or just thought they were part of his herd. He was ok, & knew it was their fault, & is not upset or scared of the horse. People are the most vicious animal on this planet, in the entire galaxy, in the whole solar system! I am sorry this kid was bitten, but the horse, as the individual, & as a species, should not, & can not, take the fall, & the blame. Where exactly were his parents, or other “responsible” adults??

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  14. You can be sure, there’s more to the story than what’s being told! Horses, by no means are vicious animals, but they are an animal and it’s the responsibility of the adult to provide supervision for the child. As usual, follow the money….there you’ll find the real story.

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  15. Doesn’t the state of CT have better things to do than pass judgement on an entire species just because of one incident? Some horses bite or kick but the majority of them are not violent toward humans. I wish the opposite were true. Please someone stop this ridulous waste of time and money!

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  16. This is complete NONSENSE.
    We need to know more about it.
    Was there another Horse in the proximity…perhaps being led by the stall?
    Horses bite each other. That’s how they settle their disputes and decide who is going to be boss. Due to their eyesight, their vision is much different than ours. They are prey animals, NOT predators.
    There are hard and fast safety rules when working with Horses that everyone, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN, must learn before ever being around them.

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  17. This whole argument about horses being vicious is as stupid as all Pit Bulls being vicious. They are all animals and any animal may bite or claw. They are not born with the vicious gene just like all humans are not born with the murderous gene. This entire conversation is moot and if anything comes out of it that in someway implicates all horses as vicious then I really believe we have been thrown back into the dark ages.

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  18. I live in right next store to Milford, Connecticut and not once heard about this law suit until this week. When I read about how the horse bite this boy on the face and now all horses are considered dangerous. How can all horses be judged dangerous when this is an isolated incident. The question is why wasn’t the boy supervised when he was petting the horse. This entire law suit is a farce and I can’t believe it won in Connectiut Appellate Court. Horses are not dangerous by nature. Maybe the boy was teasing the horse. Like previous comments everyone is sue happy.

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  19. Little toddlers bite too but we don’t call them vicious, they are just exploring. I think it is the parents responsibility to be vigilant around any strange animal. Why did they let the boy get so close? The horse obviously felt threatened. Why isn’t the parent being held responsible? It is their job to protect their children.

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  20. Bloody stupid. Very very very few horses are malicious.

    Wound’t be a problem if said kid wasn’t wander around a horse facility. Where were his parents? Why is the farm owner’s fault that the kid’s parent’s failed to supervise???? Typical BS – blame someone else for your failings.

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  21. Mar is right. This needs to be taken seriously, as there is definitely more behind it than meets the eye. The original incident took place several years ago, and there appears to be something pushing it.
    This calls for some investigative work. This one story appears to have the date wrong (I have seen 3 different dates on 3 different news reports), BUT…was the warning sign ignored?

    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/animal-rights/are-horses-vicious-species-connecticuts-high-court-will-decide-fate-states

    The case originated from an incident in 1986 at Glendale Farms in Milford, Conn. DISREGARDING SIGNS that warned against feeding and petting horses, Anthony Vendrella HELD HIS TODDLER SON UP TO TRY TO FEED A HORSE named Scuppy.

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  22. This article states that the incident occurred in 2008

    Connecticut law:
    http://cs.thehorse.com/blogs/horses-and-the-law/archive/2011/03/01/one-free-bite.aspx
    The so-called “one bite rule” has been around for centuries. The rule was a well-established tenet of English common law as far back as the 1600s and the principle migrated to the United States with English law after the Revolutionary War. Typically applied to encounters between humans and dogs, the rule holds the owner blameless for injuries inflicted by an animal if the owner had no prior knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensity to bite. The rule, in most cases, gives a dog a free pass the first time the animal bites someone. After the first incident, though, the owner obviously will not be able to claim a lack of knowledge about the dog’s tendency to bite. A majority of states have either done away with the rule altogether or have adopted statutes that modify it, but at least 18 jurisdictions still adhere to the basic principle.
    Does the “one bite rule” also apply to horses? In Connecticut, at least, the answer is “yes.”
    In June 2008, a child visiting a Connecticut farm with his family allegedly was bitten on the cheek by a horse. The child’s parents filed a personal injury lawsuit and the case wound up in the state Superior Court. The question was whether the “one bite rule” could be applied to insulate the owners of the farm and the horse from liability

    READER COMMENT:
    Do you think Connecticut’s some-what odd Equine Liability Statute had an impact here? It seems that in some states (where the laws apply to spectators/visitors and minors), this may have been considered one of the assumed risks of equine activities.
    Also, I find the plaintiff’s argument a bit strange. If all horses may bite, because it is just their nature, then its hard to argue that the Defendant was negligent for failing to warn about that fact. Would every horse owner need to warn every visitor of all the things that horses may do that could cause injury? It seems making that argument attempts to impose nearly strict liability on horse owners. I’m glad to hear it didn’t come out that way.

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