Schneiderman Pushing Ahead in TRF Lawsuit

New York attorney general files affidavits in support of equine abuse complaint.

With affidavits from a whistleblower and a veterinarian, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pushing ahead with efforts to oust the board of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

In state court filings objecting to the horse rescue group’s bid to toss out his explosive lawsuit, Schneiderman accused the foundation of a pattern of equine abuse that stretched from farms in New York to Kentucky to Oklahoma.

The Democratic attorney general said TRF “recklessly’’ allowed the size of its horse herd to grow at a time when its financial condition led to underfunding of basic equine care programs. Schneiderman is attempting to have a state court remove the foundation’s board of directors. The TRF has contended in court documents that the attorney general complaint is without merit.

“The defendant’s strident claim that TRF’s horses 'consistently benefit from proper care' is a grotesque distortion of the facts," Schneiderman said in a May 23 filing with a state court in Manhattan. "In reality, the TRF board’s substandard spending on the herd and its persistent failures of oversight have placed the entire TRF herd at risk and caused the neglect, suffering and even death of retired race horses.’’

The TRF, based in Saratoga Springs, has insisted that its herd size has been reduced; its attorney has called the lawsuit “a shocking case of misguided regulators knowingly and intentionally making false allegations that would constitute actionable libel if the allegations were not contained in a complaint.’’

Schneiderman’s latest court papers fire back at those claims. He said the TRF’s legal motion to have his lawsuit dismissed “is clearly intended more for its desired public relations value than as a serious filing with the remotest possibility of success in a court of law.’’

The affidavits filed by the attorney general included numerous cases of equine abuse cited by several individuals, including veterinarian Dr. Stacey Huntington and Ann Lear, who court papers describe as a whistleblower employed by TRF at a Front Royal, Va., host farm. An employee since 2002, she said she has more than 100 horses under her care.

Lear said the horses at the Virginia farm where she works are properly cared for, but that horses coming for care from other TRF host farms, including one in Kentucky and one based at a state prison in New York, have shown signs of malnourishment upon their arrival.

“It is clear to me that horses under TRF's care at certain other facilities are not being adequately nourished or properly cared for. It appears evident that when the condition of certain horses at other TRF farms becomes dire, TRF transfers them to my farm, which I am proud to say is where their condition can be improved and they can be well taken care of. This is not a new situation; TRF horses have received inadequate care at other facilities since my tenure with TRF and the situation seems to have only gotten worse,’’ she said in her affidavit.

TRF is the largest Thoroughbred retirement group in the nation, and has about 1,100 horses under its care.

Schneiderman said the $3 per day TRF pays to have its horses cared for is far less than required, and that the foundation has often been late in paying its bills to host farms and vets. TRF has said Schneiderman's case does not have the legal authority to seek the board's ouster.

The filing said TRF has failed to keep proper documentation of horses under its care, failed to provide basic dental care, kept wounds untreated and, in the worst cases, ran an operation that resulted in equine “deaths from neglect.’’

“Despite knowing it could not afford to take on additional horses, TRF’s leadership accepted over 500 new horses into the herd between 2006 and 2010,’’ the attorney general’s court filing states. He said equine deaths are to account for the overall drop in numbers of horses at TRF farms, ''not any responsible action by TRF directors.’’

Scheiderman dismissed TRF’s declarations of industry support, calling them “self-aggrandizing claims’’ that “wildly exaggerate the support that TRF receives under its current leadership.’’