This article is the second article in a three-part series marking the 20th anniversary of Stolen Horse International--NetPosse. Brandy Stone, Bernice McClellan, Michelle Pool and Rod Villencia share the stories of their missing or stolen horses with us in an interview done by Catherine Girard.
Sweet Pea is a 16 year old buckskin Quarter Horse mare owned by Brandy Stone, of Norco, California. Sweet Pea went missing on June 10, 2017 and was reunited with her owner on June 14, 2017.
Brandy Stone: I never thought I would own a horse again. I am a single mom. I work a couple of shifts in a restaurant, go to school part-time, and home school my son. I have been divorced since 2009. After my divorce I rehomed all of the horses and moved on, taking care of my son and all. One day, one of my girlfriends said, “I have this horse leased out that I don’t have time for. Why don’t you ride her?” It was Sweet Pea. The woman was her original owner and had owned her for 12 years. So I did for a while, and then I bought her. My friend even lowered the price for me just so I could do it. Sweet Pea is the kind of horse that you cannot ride for a few months, then you can go out on a trail ride and she’ll be just fine. My son rode her. Sweet Pea is great on the trail, but she has this one spook where she jumps up in the air and spins around. I can usually handle it. We were taking pictures in the river when she did it. I could not sit it. She jumped up in the air, spun, and took off.
Well, here’s the story: I live in Norco, California—Horse Town, USA. I board the horse at her previous owner’s house. There are trails at the end of every street—the trails go everywhere! We have more horses than people in Norco. It is one hour east of Los Angeles.
A buddy of mine who is a photographer asked me for a favor. He had a client who wanted to do a maternity shoot with a horse. I said okay, so when that Saturday came we took some pictures at the barn and that went okay. Then they wanted to do some shots in the white sand of the Santa Ana River bottom. Well, it was dinnertime. Usually if I’m going to do something like that I have a friend or two come with me to hold the horse, but there were three of us there, so I thought it would be alright. He was trying to get shots of us in the river. I had taken off my boots because I was in the water. They had a 12” diameter silver umbrella for the flash shots. I was waiting for them to get up on the sand. I was on her barefoot, and because I was barefoot my feet weren’t in the stirrups. I was walking in the riverbed, coming around the bend trying to see them, when the photographer came through between two bushes with the umbrella. She did her spin, I came off and landed in the sand, and she took off. It was 20 minutes in and it was getting dark. I ran after her barefoot, she took off towards the freeway. There is an opening there so you can ride underneath the highway. We were on the east side of the trail system and the highway, and she was gone.
I called a friend of mine and said, “What do you do when your horse is in the river bottom, and it’s dark, and you can’t find her?” and she said, “What?!” Who do you call for help on a Saturday night? I called friends; we put the word out on Facebook. I thought, ‘we rode there all the time, so even though we didn’t find her tonight, she’ll probably be okay. We’ll find her tomorrow.’
Someone got in touch with Debi and Pam Miller from SHI. That brought a lot of attention on this in Norco. For $25 they were my moral support system. I’m the kind of person that I’m usually okay. I can get through things. For the first two days I did okay. I was okay until the third day she was missing. That’s when I started falling apart. SHI gave us lots of exposure on social media. Had we not made that connection on social media I’m sure someone would have taken her. She was a good color and a breeding mare. The support they provided was great! Debi was fantastic. She settled me down. She told me the time frame on this was usually about ten days. She said she no longer personally handled these cases and handed me off to Pam Miller, who was great!
On the fourth night Sweet Pea was out there a man tried to call me, but my number was out there all over social media and people kept calling me, so I turned off my phone and let my friend who had had knee surgery take care of it. She was housebound and could do it from home. I took time off from work to search for my mare. Something like this, it changes you. When your horse goes missing it’s like your child goes missing.
Someone knew a pilot from the Riverside Police Department. He donated his time so that when he was in between Riverside calls he would fly over the riverbed and search for her. He did a fly over with an infrared camera and picked up a man on a large horse, ponying a buckskin mare. He ordered the guy out of the riverbed and told him he had to stand on the side of the riverbed and wait. The Norco sheriff went over. It was not my horse. It was his horse that he was ponying. He understood once he heard the story of what was going on.
Then I got a call from a gentleman with an accent on Wednesday night. I couldn’t place the accent. It was one you don’t usually hear around here. He had taken the day off to look for my mare because all of his horses had gotten out a year ago on the Fourth of July and spent six days in the river bottom, and he knew how it felt. At 1 am I had just gotten home and he texted me, “I’ve got your horse.”
I asked, “Where?”
He didn’t answer for 20 minutes, and then I was getting worried. Then someone, who it turns out knew us both, sent me a picture of her in his backyard. The address was a line house just down the street from my friend with the knee surgery. I called her to tell her I was going over.
“You are not going over there at this time of the night,” she said. I said, “Yes, I am,” and she came with me. A lady who had anonymously offered a $1,000 reward for the return of my mare came through with the reward for the gentleman who found the horse. She came through with it. We did that to prevent someone from taking her.
Come to find out, the guy lives next door to my veterinarian and we have become good friends. He is from Belize. He likes to ride around town, and he knew how it felt to have your horse go missing. Here we thought she would be coming up to everyone, and she was avoiding everyone. I got her back and it was phenomenal!
The saddle, pads and bridle were gone. A wildlife biologist called to let me know he had found her pads on the west side of the trail system. He said, “I can show you where she went.” She was laying down, she was going into the river to drink, she was wandering around—she was having a good old time for herself out there! He told me the pads usually fall off when they brush against the bushes, and her pads fell off in the brush. I’m so lucky she came home safe. Other horses have gotten impaled on bamboo or gone off a cliff.
People I met—the circle has enlarged. I have met so many great people because of this. I work at a restaurant. I had to take some days off. The rest of my coworkers covered my shifts. Later in the day, after I found her, I had to go back into work on like two hours of sleep. Someone suggested I should not go in, but these people had covered my shifts, so I had to go in. My boss said to me, “You were on the news. They were talking about the horse that was lost in the riverbed and was found.” It was a slow news day with sad stories and it was the feel good story of the day. They got it because they picked it up from SHI. SHI is so phenomenal at what they do and the support they give.
In Norco we care about horses, we have an animal-keeping lifestyle, and we have a family lifestyle. I’m not a fancy person—I’m just a mom. I go to work, I go to school, I home school my son. I try to ride two times a week. She’s not a show horse—she’s my sanity. My son competes in Junior Rodeo. Because it was summer he had gone to stay with his dad. The first thing after she was home, he just wanted to just go hug her. She’s been great for my son.
The lady who anonymously donated the reward had a little get together afterwards in her backyard because everyone wanted to meet Sweet Pea. The gentleman who found her—his wife had had cancer so he really needed the money. And she gave it to him.
I have met new friends. I really appreciate where I am in life right now. Years ago, I didn’t like where I was, but I do now. I couldn’t have done it without my two best friends, the man who found her, and SHI, especially for the notoriety they gave us. Debi and Pam are fantastic. There’s no way that horse could have left that county with all the notoriety they gave this.
Sweet Pea and my son are my world. I don’t let him ride Sweet Pea because of that jump and spin. Since I got her back I bought a second mare, a halter mare who is rock solid. Nothing bothers her. Sweet Peat will jump and she’ll look at her like, ‘Really?’ That’s his horse, so my son is all set.
Mayito’s Carbon Copy is a black and white Paso Fino stallion owned by Bernice McClellan, of Missouri. He was 16 years old when he was stolen in 2010.
Bernice McClellan: Mayito has been gone seven years. We leased a pasture for 3 stallions. We went out there to feed them every day. I got up early one morning to go get him because I had a mare in heat and was ready to be bred to him, and he was gone. And I knew he had been in the pasture just the night before. I had 23 mares and 3 stallions. I called a friend of mine and we walked the entire perimeter of the fence and we could not find where he got out. It had rained the night before so the ground was good and muddy, and there were no footprints over the fence so we knew he hadn’t jumped out, because if he had jumped out there would be prints around on the ground. My son came over to look with us and we found nothing.
A stallion seeks two things: companionship and mares. My mares were less than one mile away, and we have neighbors with horses, so he would have found the mares or the other horses. He wouldn’t have been out by himself. Stallions don’t act that way. So I called the sheriff and he came out and wrote up a report. Soon after that we searched the entire area. I posted on Facebook that someone stole my horse and someone told me to call NetPosse. I called Debi. I talked, or rather, she talked and I cried, and she immediately got the ad up. I remember printing fliers--my son went 30 miles away posting flyers. I got on the computer and pulled up every vet clinic around and I faxed them fliers. I drove to places to hand people fliers, because I knew he would not have a Coggins on him and anyone buying him at an auction would have to pull a Coggins.
This guy from Warsaw (MO) saw a horse like mine being ridden. He called me and told me, “It was the most gorgeous Paso Fino I have ever seen.” But when he approached the guy on the horse, he pulled his hood down and took off.
Another person saw him at the Lebanon Auction tied to a trailer. He didn’t go through the auction, but he was there tied to a trailer. So I mapped out all the auctions in the area and I went to the Sommerville auction, which was the next auction being held. If someone steals they’ll go some distance. I knew lots of other people would go to the auctions. When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, which is what this is, you’re looking at a pretty big haystack. In fact, I think it’s easier to find the needle in the haystack then it is to find this.
So I went to the Sommerville with a handful of fliers and the auctioneer let me stand up, tell my story as I cried, and pass out the fliers. Thirty minutes later, a kid comes up to me and says, “I know where your horse is. My uncle has him, but he doesn’t know he’s stolen, and another kid is riding him for him in Leadmine.”
I know who stole him. The guy that stole the horse is in trouble with the law. And the kid said they would give me back my horse if I didn’t go involve law enforcement. And I knew that Debi had always told me don’t ever go without law enforcement. So I told him, no, I needed to get law enforcement first. The kid went away, and came back and drew me a map. It was a fake map. To this day I think that if I had said okay and not brought the law I would have had my horse back. No cops involved, I’d have had my horse. I figured out where the horse had been kept. He’s a 16 year old stallion who was trying to mount the mares, so he had to be moved.
I tried everything to find Mayito. I’ve talked to psychics. I’ve probably spent over $10,000 just looking for my horse. Radio ads, TV ads, event ads, horse auction ads in the auction catalogs. A month ago I sent out postcards in Arkansas. I pick out a state and start covering it. We had heard that there was a little half Paso Fino/Quarter Horse for sale on a farm in Arkansas, so we took a road trip! It was way out there, I’m talking Deliverence. The road to the house was a path. We had a plan: my friend would talk to the sister and keep her busy while clipped a few strands of hair from the colt and had it DNA-tested to see if it went back to Mayito. It was a wild trip! And then I found out the mare the foal was out of was a Paso Fino who had been bred to a Quarter Horse stallion. It was the perfect place to hide something, though. We checked it out. We checked out (the owner’s relative) who has a lot of horses. I am thinking maybe things got too hot and they moved or killed Mayito. They could have done anything.
Every year on my birthday people post nice things on my FB wall about Mayito. Two years ago a psychic called me and said, “I have a feeling about your horse. I have a feeling he’s near a large body of water somewhere in Arkansas.” That’s where that farm was.
We went to horse auctions and I’ve talked to other victims. I honestly didn’t think horse theft was such a big problem. I thought it was a thing of the past. I had no idea so many horses were stolen in a year. I thought it was only big dollar horses that were stolen. I didn’t think they stole horses out of people’s pastures like mine. I have even slept in a truck at a gas stop because someone said they had information on my horse and wanted to meet me there. They never showed up. But in looking for Mayito, I have met some wonderful people.
On Facebook, on my birthday, about one year after Mayito was stolen I got a call from a guy in Arkansas who had seen my horse advertised for sale on Craigslist. He had called the guy and talked with him, and the seller had offered to geld him if he wanted. He looked at some other horses, and then tried to look up the ad again but it had been taken down.
“Give me your call phone and I can read out the numbers from that day—see if it was in there,” I said.
He told me okay, but when I called him he said he didn’t get the bill, and later that he couldn’t find the bill. And then he stopped answering my phone calls. I didn’t know of it was a real lead or not. He had said it was in the Joplin area. But there’s the Joplin-Springfield area, too. I think Mayito’s in Arkansas.
Debi does good work here. She enlightens people that it happens. I wish there were more people like Debi—people who would go around and talk to people about horse theft. Say a thief steals 6 horses and sells them for a couple of hundred dollars each. That pays for his drug and beer money. That’s his paycheck for the week He probably makes more doing that than in a mediocre job. Debi came into Springfield, Missouri and I worked the booth with her. I think I paid for half the plane ticket. I wrote to The Horse (magazine).
As time goes on, I still think I need to search. My other better-half thinks I need to move on.
Just the other day my trash man told me, “There’s a black and white horse that I think looks like your horse.” I went out there to look at it with the binoculars and I had to look two or three times because he looked so close to him. But when he lifted his head I could see it wasn’t Mayito. My trash man is still looking for him. My friend is still looking for him. A friend from Iowa is, too. I have a big file cabinet full with every article and every news clipping I did. I have the names of the people who have helped me. Well, I’m talking about it. I have a wonderful group of friends.
Sultan’s Modern Opus (“Opie”) is an sorrel and white pinto American Saddlebred gelding, owned by Michelle Pool, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Opie was 3 years old when he was stolen in March, 2003. He was recovered in August, 2012.
Michelle Pool: A friend of my now ex-husband’s said he had been wanting to have a horse and he had been riding mine. He said to me, “If I got one, could I keep it out there with you?” I lived in Red Oak, between Loxahatchee and Dallas at the time. I said sure, so he got the cutest little colt, brought it to my dad’s in San Antonio where our horses were, and then he skipped town. I started taking care of Opie and teaching him a few little things. The kids loved him and he loves them. He’s real gentle with them. So I thought I think I’ll go ahead and break him so one of the kids will be able to ride him. I started him under saddle and it was going really good, but I was having problems with my leg—I didn’t know at the time that it was my back yet.
I was working at the hospital, and I was walking to the coffee machine when I fell on the floor. My leg didn’t hurt, I just fell on the floor, and I couldn’t feel my leg. A nurse asked me if I was okay, and I said, “I think I am. I just can’t feel my leg.” So they got me down to the ER and one of the doctors I know wanted to x-ray my back.
“Humor me,” he said. “Let me do it.” So I let him do it. He comes back and says, “It looks like your disc and a portion of your vertebrae are gone. We need to get an MRI.” I’m laying in the bed thinking I’m a single mom with 2 kids, when my boss comes in and says she doesn’t know if they can keep my job open. I was in Dallas. The whole vertebrae had exploded and taken the disc with it. It took 2 weeks to find the medical team with the expertise I wanted to do the surgery.
I’m thinking in bed, I just got the horse where I wanted him. Could I let him sit a little and he’d be okay? My other horse was 28 years old and retired. Opie was right on the line of the danger zone. I called my old horse trainer, Marty Allen Wernle, who was like my father to me. My dad raised me because my mother was gone when I was 8. I would go to riding lessons with Marty after school and stay there until 8 pm, and be there all weekends. He was like my second father. He is extremely intelligent; he has a PhD in philosophy.
So I called him and said, “Marty, I’m in trouble. I need help. I’m in the hospital. I’ve got this horse who’s right on the line of the danger zone. Would you take him for a while and do some of the training until I get squared away?”
“Sure,” he said. My dad took Opie to him and he stayed with Marty, who kept working with him.
The doctors fuse me, I’m cleared to go.
I call Marty saying, “I’m coming down next week to get him. How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it, your dad paid for everything” he said. I later found out he never charged anything at all for keeping and training the horse.
Marty brought him to dad’s house, which is in San Antonio on I-781. There are three very big pastures there. I was coming down to dad’s that weekend to pick him up. Dad calls the day before I leave and says, “How ya doin”? Before you come down, the horse is gone. Someone cut the fence, there’s poop on the road and some trailer marks from the ramp dragging,”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Now I grew up there. The sheriff lives across the street from my dad. I played with his daughter all the time when I was a little girl. I made up fliers at Dad’s concrete company, which is right there, and I drive up and down the highway and put them up at feed store, the police station, everywhere I could find. I was down there for about a week, but I had to come back because I had the kids and work. No one had seen anything.
It was the first trip down there. I had started looking online for places to post his information. I had posted it at some other places when I came across Stolen Horse International™. So I called them. Debi made up a whole new flier, gave it a case number and everything, and put it up. When we found Opie, all of the other internet sites I had posted on had all taken the information down. It was all down. SHI was the only site it was still up on.
I remarried and we moved to Arkansas in 2007. I was thinking he’s gone. I would look at every field we passed with a horse. I had given up, but I still hoped. In Arkansas, I saw a horse that looked a lot like him, but it wasn’t him. I was crushed.
My old horse had since passed, and I had taken in another rescue horse who was pregnant. Now we had 2 horses again. I was working up here, the kids were in high school, when I got a phone call from my ex-husband, who said, “How ya doin’? My mom just called me. There’s a PI looking for you. You might want to call her.”
“I didn’t do it,” I said, which was a long standing joke in our family.
“Just call her,” he said.
So I called her.
“Yeah,” she said, “I got a call from a PI looking for you. You know why? It seems they found your horse.”
“Which horse?” I asked.
“The one that was missing 10 years ago,” she said.
“It’s going to be a scam or something,” I said, and she said, “I don’t think so.”
So I call Debi.
“Somebody saw the horse advertised on Craigslist, called the lady, and thought the story sounded fishy,” she said.”They’re going to do some more checking. They’re going to send somebody out to check. We need pictures. Do you have any pictures?”
“Yeah, I have to look through the boxes. I might have his papers, too.”
“This Craigslist ad, I don’t want to get you upset,” said Debi. “It’s a sensitive situation.” She didn’t want to give me the information on the ad. There’s a methodology to this, a way you have to go through this that victims have to go through it to get it done. So when she sent me the picture she chopped all the information out. I was real mad. When you take my horses, it’s like you took my kid. My ex-husband was in town to be with the kids, which is always fine. His cousin took the picture of me seeing the photo of Opie that Deb sent me over the internet.
“What do you want to do?” says Debi. “The people that looked into this want this horse. If you can’t take him now….”
“Let me think about this,” I said.”I have to look into things.”
When we moved to Arkansas after I remarried, we had 125 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest, but it needed to be cleared. It’s in a heavily wooded area, with lots of rattle snakes. We hadn’t cleared it out yet. We were living in an apartment, just going to move into a house with a small amount of land around it. My plan was to look for different land. When I moved my horses to Arkansas, I had my horses at a place behind where I worked, on 30 acres of land that was straight up and down. We are in a mountainous area and when I say this land was straight up and down, I mean it was straight up and down! I had to truck in hay, but there was something wrong and the horses were losing a lot of weight. I was pouring grain into them three times a day and they were still losing weight. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong so we had the vet out here twice, we were running tests, and I had $1,000 in vet bills. Someone turned me into Animal Control. The Ac called the vet, who confirmed this, so she left us alone. I had to feed the horses baby calf feed to get them to keep the weight on. It turns out that Texas horses get coastal hay and grain. On the Missouri/Arkansas border they fertilize the hay fields with chicken litter. The horses who are from here are okay with this, but it causes horses who are not raised on this to drop weight. You need to find hay that is not raised on chicken litter, which is expensive.
I needed to think about this. We have the hay issue, and at this point we didn’t know about the chicken litter--hay connection. We had just started testing the hay. This horse is from Texas. We had just moved the horses to this property and we didn’t know the landowner very well, although we’re good friends now. The property we were on was almost at maximum capacity for horses. I may need to find space. I absolutely wanted him back, but I needed to do what’s right for him. That is the most important.
Debi warned me that with him being gone so long, I was going to get blowback if I didn’t take him back. “Just do what’s right for your family,” she said. This is when I met Deanna Bordelon (the woman who called the lady about the Craigslist ad).
I talked to Deanna, and said, “Absolutely I want him. But if I find I can’t do it, then you should not have to pay for him. You can have him for free because I own him. You shouldn’t have to pay that lady anything!”
Debi talked to the people who had the horse, she talked to Deanna, and she talked to me. Deanna is now my pony sister. We talk all the time. Well, Debi was trying to tell me the story that she had been told on Opie. I was so mad I was screaming back, “No, that’s wrong!”
The story was that the lady had gotten Opie from a guy at his Cowboy Church, who had sold him to her because he was having problems with the horse. That man had gotten Opie from a different Cowboy church’s pastor who was also having problems with him. That pastor said he had found the horse running loose on Texas I-10 so he went and brought his trailer and caught him. Interstate 10 is 30 to 40 miles long. My dad’s home and his company sat at highway I-781 in San Antonio, close to Forestville. Interstate10 is 53 miles from San Antonio. When Opie was at dad’s house on I-781, he was kept behind the concrete company in front of dad’s house. Across the street is the sheriff’s house. There’s no way this could have happened.
I think what happened is this: Opie is quirky. He has spirit. All the other horses are cattle horses in that area and he is an American Saddlebred. He was the only Saddlebred. I think somebody saw him prancing around the field and thought he was worth some money, so they took him.
Well, no one could work with him, so he sold her to that lady. Her daughter was going to college so she was selling the horse on Craigslist. But she wouldn’t tell Debi or Deanna or anybody anyone else’s name involved in the story. No one had ever filed a police report on a found horse. All the police departments had my flier.
I was so mad, I was screaming. Debi was so patient and kind.
“I know you are mad,” she said. “Let’s focus on getting the horse to the right place.” Most of the people don’t do that. Debi has real people skills. I have two more friends for life now, Debi and Deanna.
Liz agreed, reluctantly agreed, to let us keep him on the property with our other horses. I made arrangements to go get him. The trailer had been sitting in the field for years. Mice had chewed the wiring. The lights and brakes went out. We had to stop at Walmart to fix the lights and wiring, and then the tires locked up. I kept telling Debi, “We’ll get there!” It took us 14 hours to get there. I met Deanna there for the first time when we picked him up. Opie and I had this thing we did, where I would blow in his nose and he would grab my nose or me. I blew in his nose and he did it. I lost it! I got him in to trailer and got him home.
Late that night I backed the trailer into the yard. The new mare we had, Sarah, was the foal of the old mare that had previously lived with Opie, which we had had to put down. Sarah was now big. Sarah and Dan (who had been with Opie at her dad’s home in Texas) are in the field now and hear the trailer pull up. In the dark, my dad gets Opie out. He came from San Antonia to help me get the horses because he felt responsible for what had happened. Dad let him in the field. Opie, Dan and Sarah took off running up and down, and up and down the steep field. In the picture, Opie has his tongue out like I won! Opie is actually in the lead. Dan had always been in the lead before.
Today, Opie is great! He is 18 years old now. He’s just fat and happy. I haven’t been able to ride yet. I had the surgery in Texas three years ago, followed by hard therapy. I have a check-up coming up in San Antonio soon, and they tell me I will be cleared to ride!
What I want to say is that people don’t understand that everyone is not in the same situation 10 or 15 years from now that they were in when they lost the horse. So many things can happen. Deaths and divorces and changes, these things happen. So don’t be so hard on them when they have found their horse and then have to let them go. I thought here if I have to let him go to Deanna, I know where he is and it’s good. But I really want my horse back!
I can’t say enough about Debi and Stolen Horse.
Ariel is a buckskin Paint breeding stock mare owned by Rod Vilencia, of Southern California. She was 2 years old when she was stolen in Southern California in 1993. She was found in Oregon and returned to her owner in 2005.
Rod Vilencia: “At the time this occurred, I trained horses for a living. I had hit a bad patch where four or five clients had abandoned their horses on me. I had to pay the bills on their horses, so I had to sell a few of my own. I sold a gelding I loved into a good home. Ariel was being pasture boarded at another place. When the owner heard I was going to be selling her, she offered to buy her. I sent the thief my contract, but then she was saying she needed to make payments, so I changed the contract to include the payment option and sent it back to her.
A couple of months went by with no word. I tried to call her and the phone was disconnected. I called the Sheriff and he went out there and found her and the horse. He then called me back and told me to get the horse out as soon as I could because he knew she had just lied to his face about exactly who she was. In 48 hours I had the trailer all hooked up and ready to go. She was gone and so were the horses. I contacted the news agencies and the department of law enforcement. I looked aggressively for her for three years, but I couldn’t find her.
Years later, I went to my twentieth high school reunion and an old friend asked me, “Hey, did you ever find the (mare) that crook stole?” I was up all night, and then I thought, maybe she went to her high school reunion, too. So I got online and started looking for high schools in the area where I knew she was from. I knew she was a few years older than me. The very first high school I picked, and the very first class year I picked, and there she was along with a link to her breeding facility in Oregon. I clicked on the link, and it was her. Then I looked through the horses and there was my horse, with a registered name I had never given her, pregnant, and with a paint filly by her side. I had never registered her after she went missing because I didn’t want anyone making money off of her babies like that. The thief forged my name on fake papers that appeared to give her ownership of Ariel. She was breeding her and selling the babies. And all along the APHA was letting her go along like this without contacting me.
I knew I needed help so I searched for ‘stolen horse’ and I went to Stolen Horses International (SHI). I got Debi Metcalfe and told her my story and I told her I was going to confront the thief! She calmed me down and told me to sit right here and not do that.
“If you call that lady she is going to take your horse or do something, and you will never see your horse again,” said Debi. Then Harold got on the phone and calmed me down some more. So we brainstormed it. Debi asked me if I could afford a private investigator, and I said I could.
“We are going to hire a PI and send them to the farm to take pictures of your horse,” she said.
A friend of mine in Oregon knew a PI so we sent him to the farm to take photos of my mare and the filly she was trying to sell for $6,500. I had all of the original documents on Ariel and I sent the PI copies of everything. They sent them to the Oregon Department of Brand Inspection, who sent them to law enforcement. On September 14, 2004 they served a search warrant on her to inspect the place. Ariel was there with her two year old filly. They looked at the paperwork she had on the horse, and found there were pages and pages of paperwork with her forging my name on them. They loaded up my mare and the filly and took them away from the farm.
A Grand Jury indicted her on six felony charges and one misdemeanor. She and her first public defender found out I had money and went to town with it. The first two public defenders thought she was crazy. Her third public defender finally told her that if the case went to trial, she was going to prison.
The District Attorney settled it for her and she pleaded guilty to one count of felony for forgery and the misdemeanor of using someone else’s livestock. It was during this time that Ariel threw a red dun colt and still had the paint filly with her, so now I owned 3 horses. While I was in the criminal case with her, I had filed a civil suit, as well. She countersued me to $100,000 for abusing the legal system. I had to pay for a lawyer, she had a free lawyer. She lost. The case went to arbitration then went to a jury trial. They cost me a lot of money.
They sent me the horses during the pendency of the case. I had to have animal control come over once a month to check on the horses and make sure I didn’t move them. A year and a half or two years later, a neighbor turned her in for neglect. Animal Control took away all 21 of her animals. They were in rough shape. When they went to the property they found a gun in her home, and because she was a felon she spent 81 days in jail. After that she tried the bid to get the 21 animals back. Law enforcement found all sorts of fuzzy paperwork on her animals, but I was the only complainant to come forward. The case came to a close for me in 2005. She’s got about another 2 years before she can legally have animals again. The judge banned her from having any pets, even a goldfish. She put me through hell for 11 years. She put me through hell for 2 years trying to get my horse back, and for another year after that. It was a rough time. I survived it. I came through it. Now Ariel gets her baths, her carrots every day, her grain and lives a good life. She will be 27 years old in 5 months.
Debi and Harold were instrumental in getting her back. I would have blown the whole thing. She gave me emotional support through the whole thing. Debbie and Harold were with me when Ariel was brought back.
The work they do is so important. There are a lot of people like me who don’t have an advocate. What Debbi does is so important to crime victims like myself. She gets the word out and SHI does everything they can to get them back. You don’t talk to the thief you know so your horse doesn’t disappear. Bad contracts are really a common way for horses to disappear. I can’t say enough good things about SHI. SHI needs support. The signs and things they sell is really all the money she gets.
My situation is rare due to it taking so much time to solve the case. It cost me so much money and so much stress, and when I go out there and see my horse it’s all worth it. It is an emotional roller coaster. I spent a fortune flying up there to Oregon, staring her down in the courtroom. It was not fun. The civil trial lasted three or four days. I caution people that this can happen. You don’t always just go and get your horse back. You have to be prepared for the battle. It turned out it was better for me that she was in Oregon than if she had stayed in California because Oregon has different brand inspections.
I managed to get a hold of the original officer who remembered the case. He remembered very distinct details about it and provided them to law enforcement in Oregon. All along she was using three different aliases. You need to know that there are unscrupulous traders and horse breeders who know what they’re doing. I tell people all the time, when you’re selling a horse take cash in exchange for a bill of sale. Do not trust selling a horse on payments because if she had made only one payment it would have been a civil case, only. It would not have been able to be prosecuted as a criminal case. I would not have had a legal leg to stand on with a criminal case. That one payment makes it a civil case and it can’t be prosecuted as a criminal case.
I want to reiterate here that what SHI does for horse theft crime victims is so important. To have Debi, who lives and breathes this 24 hours a day, loses sleep over people like me, and puts her heart and soul into this is wonderful. She is the hero in this. There are a lot of copycats out there who don’t know what they’re doing. If you have a stolen horse, there’s nobody better to contact than SHI.”
Catherine Girard is a free-lance writer and a member of American Horse Publications.
Note from our Founder: I would be so easy for me to take the credit given to me in this story but the truth is, I can't do what I do without you. This is an all volunteer organizaton and so many of you play a part in our successes and the day to day running of the nonprofit organization. We would not be who we are today without you.
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