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Popular Barn Denies Allegations of Unethical Behavior

Huntington's Thomas School of Horsemanship under fire by Northport horse rescue organization.

Northport-based Nonprofit Agency Project Sage Horse Rescue is accusing Thomas School of Horsemanship in Huntington of being careless about the fate of a thoroughbred lesson horse named Rex.

Project Sage Founder Brittany Rostron purchased Rex at New Holland Horse Auction in Pennsylvania Monday, a place she called a notorious, hectic operation rife with "kill buyers" who sell horses for their meat. Rostron attends the auctions regularly to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home horses headed down the slaughter pipeline.

According to the Humane Society, in Mexican and Canadian slaughter plants, horses are stabbed multiple times in the neck with a “puntilla knife” to sever their spinal cords. They are hoisted, bled out, and dismembered, often while still conscious.

Horse slaughter is legal in the United States, but the industry was effectively quashed after 2006 when Congress stopped funding agricultural inspections necessary to sell the meat. Since President Obama refunded the inspections in 2011, a New Mexico meat plant owner hopes to become the first plant to process horse meat since 2007.

New Holland has been the subject of numerous undercover investigations by animal welfare groups for its treatment of horses and other livestock. In 2007 the auction was found guilty of three counts of animal cruelty and, in 2001, it was convicted of 31 counts of animal cruelty against horses.

Rostron and Project Sage Volunteer Coordinator Cadence Kennedy purchased five horses that day to bring back to their Northport barn.

"When walking down the aisle you are bombarded with horse’s behinds," Kennedy wrote on Project Sage's Facebook Page. "Rex was one of the only horses that turned around and gazed at us as we walked by. When examining him and his neighbor, now named “Johnny,” we realized that these horses were not meant to be there. Compared to the others, they were well groomed, shoed and extremely friendly, but a little banged up from shipping."

Rex was presented in the ring by Long Island Horse Dealer Billy Littleton. Rostron said Littleton is known in the horse community by the nickname "Billy Bang Bang."

"Basically you call him if you have a lame horse to get rid of," said Rostron.

As Rex ran through the ring at auction, Littleton announced that the gelding bay throughbred was from Thomas in Long Island with bute in his system. Technically, a horse with bute, short for phenylbutazone, a common inflammatory drug, could not be sent to slaughter that day. A kill buyer would have to wait until the drug was out of Rex' system.

Rostron missed the bid on Rex as he ran through the ring and was purchased by Virginia horse dealer Jesse Austin. Rostron approached Austin and offered to buy Rex for $100 over the selling price. 

Austin buys and sells livestock out of Virginia and has sold horses for slaughter. A 2003 Washington Post article on the horse slaughter industry quoted him as saying that an aging, lame horse, faces a less cruel fate at a slaughter horse than it does being ridden into the ground as an unfit lesson horse.

When Rostron purchased Rex, she put his picture on the Project Sage Facebook page and received an overwhelming response.

"The next thing I know I have a hundred phone calls, a hundred emails of people saying 'holy crap, my kid rode that horse two weeks ago in a lesson, we know who that horse is,'" said Rostron. Many wanted to know how Thomas' could have allowed one of their horses to be sold at New Holland.

Thomas School owner Nancy Thomas did not say if she knew that Rex would end up at New Holland when she sold him to Billy Littleton. She did say, however, that Rex was never in any danger because she requested that he be returned if he could not be sold as a lesson horse.

Thomas School sold Rex, she said, because not enough children could ride him.

"Rex has plenty of life left and I knew he would find a good buyer," she wrote.  "He was not ready to be retired, he needed a home. Thomas School has never sold a horse for slaughter. And never will."

Rostron retorted, "In my opinion when you give a horse to a man named 'Billy Bang Bang' you damn well know it will not end up in the hands of a good person."

Rostron and Thomas have not spoken to each other on the issue although Thomas said she has tried to reach out. Rex is currently at Project Sage's main rescue barn in Northport.

"Everyone in my organization is just so disappointed to find a Long Island horse at such a low end horse auction," said Rostron. "People pay thousands of dollars to attend the Thomas' horsemanship camp, and the horses can't even be given a nice retirement? This was the retirement he got? To be sent to an auction?"

DR Goeff Clarke March 01, 2013 at 05:35 PM
As a medical person I can acknowledge that when you send kids to school they will contract infections. I presume the same is true for horses at auctions IF it it law that a Rescue or quarentine facility needs to isolate their animals for a particular period of time THEN I can attest they do not. My experience is that these so called rescues are simply a tax avoidance scheme competing for the sale dollars just like any other dealer. Mr Littleton sseems to fall within the catagory of ":dealer" all dealers including the rescue needs to have a NY state agriculture license. My suggestion is before you buy or "adopt" any horse you ask to see their license. I was told by the NY State Department of Agriculture that there is only one facility that sells horses on Long Island who has had the license continually in good standing for over 25 years Licensed facilities are inspected Anyone operating as a sales facility or a rescue that brings horses from out of state has to have a license. Do your research and only buy or adopt from reliable, sources. . Horses are not permitted to be shipped interstate without a licensed veterinarians health certificate. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have strict laws that may or may not have been followed here. The entire issue is suspect from every angle with not a single player involved being 100% lawful. The author? Just incompetant.
Jerry Hannon March 02, 2013 at 04:43 AM
For Pam Robinson, how about fixing this? It looks ugly.
Polodude March 02, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I have a couple of questions for Sage. 1st I do not have a problem at all with them charging an adoption fee. Horses are not cheap to feed,Dr, and get ready for adoption. Every animal adoption agency charges some kind of fee. Now. I am a horse owner in the area of Sage. There are actually many horses in the area. When these horses come for the sales, What type of quarantine do they go through? With EHV-1 , EEEV ,West Nile to start with. What about coggins? I do all the vaccinations, But others may not. Again, I do believe they are doing good work saving horses. Now for all that are so opposed to horse slaughter , you really need to research the unintended consequences of the bans. Here is just one article on it. http://thecattleblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/humane-slaughter-of-horses-is-good.html
DR Goeff Clarke March 03, 2013 at 12:35 PM
MY experience with horses goes back several decades and I am well aware of the costs. My point is and was is the rescue was inflamatory, and the reporter bought into a poorly researched story.The Thomas school shrugging off an obviously lame horse as it was stated the horse went through the ring on "Bute" . The shipper/dealer Mr Littleton appears to have been the fall guy. Thomas School was backpeddling faster than a circus clown, The rescue made sure she got a lot of free press and sympathy all the better for digging some gold out of nice people's pockets. They all got outed and none of them had this horse's best interests at heart. Thomas School could have given it to a person who had lower expectations for the small amount they knew they would get at an auction. They chose to do none of the above and made a business decision to get whatever they could for the horse. Maybe not your idea of the right thing but definitely a monetary based decision. The rescue obviously thought they could get $2000 for a horse that was obviously lame if you read between the lines. He was rested for many months to get "sound" er, He was on an anti-inflamatory going into the ring, Mr Austin didn't care he saw a profit even with the Bute. The whole bunch of them need to do some looking in the mirror along with that reporter.Me thinks they doth protest too loudly. Goeff
Horsey Love March 05, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Since when is it “unethical behavior” to sell a horse to a new home. This horse was beautiful, well cared for , sound and was bound for his new home in West Virginia when Project Sage decided to buy him. She calls herself a rescue- this horse did not need to be rescued. The assumption that this author implies is that every horse that goes to the sale goes to slaughter. This is not true. 130 horses were sold “as riding horses” that day alone. This horse was not in danger that day. Brittany from Project Sage said “he was too nice to be there”. Then why did she need to “save him”? Project Sage is like a fly on a horses’ back. The fly is so small on the big horse, yet the horse feels it acutely and does all that it can to get rid of it. Knowing that his life is so much more meaningful, teaches so many people to love and care for horses, so much stronger and far more ethical than this nagging fly, it still hurts and needs to be removed. Reputations need to be restored. It is the obligation of this newspaper to do so. Facebook needs to be curtailed. Facebook allows people to respond without true facts. Facebook allows people to hide behind a screen and feel powerful in their unethical accusations. What are we teaching people by allowing this electronic “game of telephone” that we all played as children to become so devastating when it is not based in truth.

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