Reining Horse’s Death Under Investigation

September 27th, 2013 9:16 AM | 3 Comments

Reprinted with permission by Quarter Horse News

Written by Mark Thompson

Bella Gunnabe Gifted, pictured last year with former trainer Barbara Williams • photo by Waltenberry

The recent death of a 5-year-old reining mare while she was training at a California ranch is under investigation, a San Diego County Animal Services official has confirmed.

According to Dan DeSousa, deputy director of the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services, a necropsy on Bella Gunnabe Gifted has been ordered and charges could be filed if abuse is determined to be a factor in the mare’s death. The investigation also could determine abuse was not a factor, or it could prove inconclusive.

“We did take possession of the horse Saturday [Sept. 21, the day she died] and we have scheduled it for a necropsy. That’s where things stand at this time,” DeSousa said. It will take at least a week for his department to receive the necropsy results, which DeSousa hopes will help determine the probable cause of the horse’s death.

Bella Gunnabe Gifted (Colonels Smoking Gun [Gunner] x Bay Brim Hat x Hollywood Return) was purchased in June by Martha Torkington, according to American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) registration records.

Mark Arballo, of Arballo Reining Horses, one of two resident trainers at River Valley Ranch, confirmed to Quarter Horse News that Bella Gunnabe Gifted had been in his training program. Arballo Reining Horses’ website lists the trainers as Arballo and his girlfriend, Patricia Hohl, a “new up-coming trainer in the Reining industry with numerous successes in the past couple of years.” The website has since been removed from the internet. Arballo added that he had no other comments on the horse’s death at this time.

According to a Fox5 San Diego article, witnesses say Bella Gunnabe Gifted was “tied up with a shank bit” and panicked. You can read the complete Fox5 San Diego news report here.

Another horse death investigation took place at the same location last June regarding an approximately 7-year-old horse owned by Hohl. According to the official San Diego County Department of Animal Services records, an anonymous caller “witnessed horse dying after an accident where it was being lunged with its’ head tied and it reared over and cracked its’ skull.” The allegations were denied by Hohl, who stated the horse “just collapsed and died” while she was lunging him before riding.

Part of the problem with the 2012 case, DeSousa said, was that the horse had been buried at the ranch and the body was not recovered by investigators until more than a week after the death. Extensive decomposition following a death can limit a necropsy’s effectiveness. The written report indicates the witnesses all wished to remain anonymous, which prevented that case from being pursued further.

Bella Gunnabe Gifted made the finals of several limited-age events for prior owner and breeder Roxanne Koepsell and former trainer Barbara Williams. “Bella” had earned more then $8,185 overall through the end of last year, according to Equi-Stat records.

Editors note: For more information from Fox News, click here.

3 Responses to “Reining Horse’s Death Under Investigation”

  1. If Bellas skull was cracked it will be easy enough to see. Exhume the other horse and you will see her skull was probably cracked, as well. Decomposition will have nothing to do with a cracked skull and should be easily detected.

  2. The owner, Martha Turkington, is also responsible. She is know to have approved this trainer’s techniques and knew what he was up to. He abused horses and she turned a blind eye.

  3. Biting around while lunging is horribly dangerous, the horses cannot keep proper balance with their head pulled to the side. It should be prosecuted as abuse.

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