Equine Rescue

State moves for custody of seized horses allegedly neglected at Connecticut farm

by Jessie Leavenworth as published on The Courant

“The state is moving to gain permanent custody of eight horses that were malnourished and suffering from long-term neglect when they were seized from a Montville riding and boarding farm, authorities said…”

One of the horses state authorities seized last year from a Montville farm. The animals were malnourished and several were in severe pain from long-term neglect, officials said. (State of Connecticut)


Laurel Ledge Farm owner Michelle Wilson, 55, has been charged with nine counts of cruelty to animals. One of the horses that state Department of Agriculture officers seized last year, named Bavaro, was in such bad shape that it had to be euthanized, a news release from state Attorney General William Tong said.

“No animal should suffer in this way,” Tong said Tuesday.

“We are moving today for permanent custody to ensure these horses receive the care and respect all living creatures deserve,” he said. “It is my hope that these horses will continue to thrive under state care, and will one day find new loving homes.”

Wilson could not be reached immediately Wednesday.

Triggered by a complaint from a local animal control officer, state officers met with Wilson last year and saw several severely underweight horses, including “an extremely thin and unsound horse” that was being ridden, officials said.

During several return visits, officers urged Wilson to consult with a veterinarian. The vet, at officers’ request, visited the farm and advised measures to improve the horses’ nutrition and health, but each time the state officers returned to check on the animals, none of the medical care had been performed and the horses’ conditions had continued to deteriorate, according to the warrant for Wilson’s arrest. One horse, Tank, had been suffering from a severe bone infection and was euthanized, authorities said.

The agriculture department sought a search and seizure warrant and obtained custody of the surviving horses in September. Veterinarians found all suffering from neglected dental care, and three were in obvious and significant dental pain, the release and arrest warrant said.

The horses also lacked proper hoof care, including a severe bacterial infection in one. Eight of the nine horses had some degree of lameness, and two were severely lame and in obvious pain. Several were malnourished, some severely so, officials said.

The horses have recovered in state care at the Second Chance Large Animal Rehabilitation Program in Niantic. Tristian, Regal, Avadon, Ember, Cabot, Sullivan, Sebastian and Bailey were in stable condition and showing signs of continued improvement, the news release said.

Wilson’s farm at 550 Fire St. in the Oakdale section of Montville offered horseback riding instruction for adults from advanced-beginner through upper-level jumping and dressage, according to the Laurel Ledge website. Lessons had been offered since 1993, the site says.

The warrant says Wilson told animal control officers that she knew her horses were thin, but she was unable to put weight on them. Officers found that none of the horses had been seen for veterinary or dental care in about two years, the warrant says. Wilson responded that she had not had blood work or other follow-up care done due to finances, the warrant said. She also said she did not have the money to cover the animals’ dental care, authorities said.

Animal control officers also found the floor of a horse shelter covered in manure deep enough to cover a horse’s hoof, the warrant said. Wilson said she could not clean the shelter because her tractor was broken, the warrant said.

Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlbut said state animal control officers always try to work with owners before removing animals, especially during these tough economic times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hurlbut encouraged animal owners to seek out resources at the local, state and federal levels to ensure animals get proper care.

Severe drought throughout much of the state last year also limited summer grazing and production of feed, including hay. The agriculture department compiled a directory of hay resources, as well as COVID-19 resources, available at www.CTGrown.gov. Livestock and domestic animal owners are encouraged to reach out if additional help is needed.

The motion filed in Hartford Superior Court to seek permanent custody of the horses also requests that the court order Wilson to provide daily compensation to the state for the animals’ temporary care. The cruelty to animal charges against her are being heard in Norwich Superior Court.

Wilson had asked in November to “say goodbye” to Bavaro, the horse that was euthanized after the state seized the animals, according to a letter from Chief State Animal Control Officer Jeremiah Dunn to an investigating officer.

But because of legal concerns with the pending criminal case and the short time until the horse was put down, Dunn wrote in the letter dated Nov. 17 that the request likely would not be granted.

“I certainly empathize with Ms. Wilson’s situation,” Dunn wrote, “but I just do not see this request (if even possible) can be coordinated in the small window of time Bavaro has left.”


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