Horse owner speaks out about neglect at Somerset farm

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An emaciated-looking horse at Peaceable Farm. Photo courtesy of Jean Thornton An emaciated-looking horse at Peaceable Farm. Photo courtesy of Jean Thornton

A stallion of the Lipizzan breed, Conversano II Aloha II, was trained to the highest level in Grand Prix dressage and ridden by owner Jean Thornton for 20 years. That is, until she sold him to Somerset farm owner Anne Shumate, who promised to care for the aging horse while riding him enough to keep him healthy.

Thornton called her prized stallion “Lou” for short and rode him to a United States Dressage Federation gold medal, 25 National Grand championships, eight National Reserve championships, 35 regional championship awards and more than 100 first place awards, she says.

When she learned of the neglect and animal hoarding case at Peaceable Farm, she immediately booked a plane ticket from her Orlando home to Virginia to learn the fate of the award-winning horse she sold.

She posted fliers in Charlottesville offering a $1,000 reward for information that led to finding Lou, her “soulmate,” and used social media as a way to garner clues from people all over the country. She received more than 70 messages on Facebook.

On October 22 she drove to the farm and came face-to-face with Shumate, who said the stallion was fine and at a nearby farm, which she refused to name, according to Thornton. Shumate hid inside a horse trailer on her property and Thornton says she talked with Shumate “through the bars” of the trailer before Shumate realized who Thornton was and eventually came out of the trailer. She says Shumate seemed nervous and scared.

This was just three days after the investigation of Peaceable Farm—where 85 live horses were surrendered or seized from the property and seven were found dead—began. Officials say Shumate owned upward of 200 horses at one time.

“Three of them were still locked in their stalls after having eaten the walls,” Thornton says she learned about three of the dead horses. But there was still no trace of Lou.

On the night of October 22, Thornton heard from Vermont resident Elena Collins that Shumate was previously in the process of buying another horse—one that belonged to a friend of Collins—and Shumate was supposed to pick it up on October 11. Coming on October 12  instead, Shumate told Collins and the horse’s owner that she was late because her grand prix stallion had passed the day before. For this reason, Thornton says she believes her beloved Lou died October 11.

Collins could not be reached for comment.

Though Gentle Giants, a horse rescue nonprofit out of Mt. Airy, Maryland, visited Peaceable Farm in mid-August and took photos of Lou standing in what Thornton calls “a mountain of beautiful hay,” she believes this was the first nourishment Lou had been given since Shumate removed him from Tommy Doyle’s farm in June and brought the horse to her own.

Doyle says he housed several horses for Shumate for about six months and that she was “respectable” and proved that she cared for her horses.

“You would never know anything was wrong,” he says, until the horses needed vaccinations and Shumate didn’t want Doyle to take care of the veterinary work, which he does for every other client.

“When I told her the horses couldn’t live here if they weren’t going to get vaccinations,” he says, “someone picked them up the next day.” Doyle and Thornton believe the horses then went back to Peaceable Farm. This was in June.

Photos from Gentle Giants’ trip to the farm show an emaciated Lou, with skin pulled tight against his protruding ribs, but Thornton has a September 23 message from Shumate, which indicates that everything was fine with the stallion.

No record of Lou’s body has been found.

“I’m assuming after he died,” she says, “[Shumate] had someone bury him.”

She remembers Lou as intelligent and gentle, fit and strong.

“He would come running from across the field when I went out into the field and called his name,” she says. “Lou was like a person.”

Thornton is working to create a national database for people who have been convicted of animal cruelty. She also hopes to pass a federal law that requires any person banned from owning animals in one state be banned from owning animals in all states.

In a November 18 hearing at the Orange County General District Court, a judge ruled that the 10 horses belonging to Shumate that she refused to surrender were legally seized by the county. Though Shumate is currently free on $75,000 bond, she has been charged with 27 counts of animal cruelty. The 75 surrendered horses were taken in by several rescue agencies and, as a condition of her bond, Shumate cannot own any animals. Her next hearing is at 10am November 25.

Shumate could not be reached for comment.