A San Jacinto horse sanctuary that caters mainly to race horses that have been put out to pasture is being sued by a neighboring equine facility for alleged abuse and neglect of the 20 horses and donkeys still on the property, where the plaintiffs say they’re starving.
The California Equine Retirement Foundation at 805 N. Sanderson Ave. was named, along with its president, 53-year-old Carrie L. Ard, in the civil action filed Wednesday by the United Pegasus Foundation and the Caru Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The first status hearing in the matter is not scheduled until June 1 at the Riverside Historic Courthouse.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that United Pegasus Foundation would have to rescue a horse from the California Equine Retirement Foundation, which was once the gold standard of thoroughbred retirement,” said Helen Meredith, director of Pegasus. “When my suspicions and the rumors of mass starvation were validated, I couldn’t sleep until we rescued a majority of those horses.”
Calls and emails seeking comment from Ard were not immediately answered.
According to the civil complaint, Pegasus and partner groups succeeded in removing — with Ard’s consent — 44 horses from the 30-acre CERF ranch earlier this year, and all of the equines have been undergoing rehabilitation, either at the Pegasus rescue on Esplanade Avenue, or at private facilities.
The organization has posted pictures on its website showing the conditions of several thoroughbreds when they were transported to the Pegasus site in May, clearly emaciated, and how they are now, fleshy and muscular.
The complaint alleges that the CERF ranch went into steady decline after Ard, a former store clerk who started out as a groomer at the facility, took over management, following the ouster of the CERF founder, Gracie Belcoure, who was at the helm going back to 1986.
According to the complaint, Belcoure was removed by the foundation’s Board of Directors, on which Ard sat, in 2014.
Despite being a facility that once received millions of dollars in grants and bequests, the CERF ranch eventually ran into financial hurdles, which the complaint suggests was partly a result of Ard’s alleged penchant for gambling at horse races.
Common practices, such as the use of farriers to maintain horses’ hooves or inoculations for health maintenance, were largely dispensed with, and eventually the amount of hay provided to the equines was severely curtailed to save money, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs wrote that in one instance last fall, it was documented Ard was “purchasing 10 hay bales at a time, every other week.”
“The amount Ard was purchasing was not enough for even a single morning feeding for 75 horses, let alone for two weeks nourishment,” according to the complaint. “By contrast, Pegasus goes through approximately 22 hay bales per day for 80 horses.”
The plaintiffs alleged equines were left unsheltered during heavy rains last winter, and the combination of exposure and starvation began to take a dramatic toll.
A thoroughbred named Eagle Rock suffered colic, unable to digest food or defecate, the plaintiffs said. Prompt medical attention for the horse might have saved him, but Ard did not act, and “after about five days of slow, painful suffering,” Eagle Rock died, according to the complaint.
Another horse, Valentine, contracted Cushing’s disease, resulting in abscesses on his feet, affecting his overall health, the plaintiffs said.
“Valentine died after weeks of misery,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs said that in the last year, CERF lost its nonprofit status at both the federal and state levels.
There is no record of an investigation by the Ramona Humane Society, which handles animal control in the San Jacinto Valley. The agency did not return a call for comment.
Riverside County Department of Animal Services spokesman John Welsh told City News Service that the county has been aware of problems at the CERF ranch for some time, but it is outside the department’s jurisdiction, and the Ramona Humane Society has not requested assistance.
The civil action seeks to compel Ard to release the remaining horses at the property to Pegasus, bar her from further operations and have CERF compensate Pegasus for the tens of thousands of dollars expended rehabilitating the animals removed from the ranch this year.