UPDATED Sept. 28:
The Cherokee County Police released a statement following the necropsy of Toby, which found he died of blunt trauma to the head, likely from a kick by another horse.
“On Friday 22 September a horse was found deceased in a pasture at a stable along Union Hill Road in Cherokee County. The wound to the horse’s head resembled a gunshot wound thus leading investigators to believe initially the horse had been shot and killed.
“However, after investigation it was revealed that the horse suffered a depressed skull fracture from a blunt object. A thorough investigation that included a complete scene investigation, interviews, and a necropsy of the deceased horse revealed the following.
“Investigation reveals that most likely the horse had his head at the ground grazing and was kicked in the head by another shod horse causing the death of the Toby.
“The cause of death of the horse is determined to have resulted from blunt force trauma to the head. Manner of death is accidental.
“The owners of Toby and The Cherokee Marshal’s Office would like to express our gratitude to University of Georgia Veterinary Division and the members of the community that provided and
extended their support during the investigation.”
Eventing trainer Lauren Eckardt couldn’t believe it on Sept. 22 when a neighbor came to find her to tell her that a student’s horse, Summer Sleigh Ride, was dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his field.
Now the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Canton, Ga., is investigating how the tragic incident could have happened.
Eckardt is based at The Stables at Union Hill in Canton, and has trained Summer Sleigh Ride’s owner, junior rider Sami Crandell, for two years.
“Toby,” a 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Keltic Lion—Mostodloch) bred by Bruce Davidson, came to the barn in February. He’d previously been campaigned to the CCI* level by Buck and Andrea Davidson before Crandell bought him as a schoolmaster.
The pair recently finished seventh in the junior training division at the U.S. Eventing Association American Eventing Championships (N.C.) in early September and were preparing to move up to preliminary.
“They were really figuring each other out, to the point that he would do anything for her,” said Eckardt.
On the morning of Sept. 22, Eckardt said Toby was turned out around 7:30. At 7:40 a client dropped one of her workers off and saw all the horses in the field standing. At 7:45 a neighbor across the street was driving her child to school and saw Toby was down. When she returned she noticed he was still down and alerted Eckardt.
Toby was wearing a fly mask, but Eckardt was able to confirm he had been shot and was dead. Then she called the police.
“We didn’t find any casing or bullets anywhere, no exit wound,” she said.
Police believe the incident happened between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m.
Eckardt said shooting a gun on your own property is legal in her area, and she often hears gunshots, but until a necropsy is completed, it’s unknown whether Toby was hit by a stray bullet or if it was malicious.
“There are a lot of theories going around, but who knows? It’s still up in the air right now. We’re just all waiting on the necropsy and the pictures to see what exactly we’re dealing with,” she said.
Eckardt, the Crandell family and the owner of the farm have put up a $15,000 reward for any information regarding Toby’s death.
In addition, C4 belts has stepped in to donate money.
“C4 are doing two belts for him, and all the proceeds are going to the reward or more than likely to Save The Horses, which is a local charity here that the family highly supports,” said Eckardt.
“[Sami] is completely torn up, but the support from the horse community—holy moly. If not anything else, it just shows how amazing the horse community is,” Eckardt said. “The outreach for the kid and the support to us has been unbelievable. I can’t express to you how much my phone has not stopped ringing or texting. She’s an amazing kid, and it’s a fantastic family. This shouldn’t happen to anybody. It just crushes me.”
If convicted, the shooter could face animal cruelty charges.