Motivated by the charges of neglect at Danish Warmblood breeder John Byrialsen’s Polish stud farm, three U.S. Grand Prix dressage riders have formed a group to rescue the affected horses.
Karen Lipp, Ball Ground, Ga., Shawna Harding, Aiken, S.C., and 2012 Olympian Tina Konyot, Palm City, Fla., all have ties to the breeder and have been disgusted by what they’ve witnessed in news reports, motivating them to act.
“I had a relationship buying horses from this man from approximately 2000-2005,” said Lipp. “In 2005, I saw him hit somebody [a person] and realized what a horrible human he was and stopped doing business with him. However, at that time, his barn appeared to be in good shape. He had too many horses, but they were in good shape.”
It wasn’t until Lipp saw a video filmed by a former employee and released on Epona.tv on Aug. 9 that she made the connection. “I thought, oh my God! I know this guy! And I recognized every one of the horses,” she said. “When you buy a certain horse by a certain sire they have similar characteristics, so I see these Come Back stallions that are 3 years old, and they are starving. My skin was crawling, and I started crying. I didn’t see any of that—I was only over there for three days at a time to look at horses years ago, but I feel this huge responsibility.”
Byrialsen co-owns stallion Come Back II with Carol Cohen, a Wellington, Fla., dressage enthusiast. Harding, whose FEI World Cup Grand Prix horse Come On III is by Come Back, saw red flags years ago in the sheer number of horses.
“He had hundreds of foals, and it was coming on winter,” she recalled. “They were all stuffed into this indoor, and whoever could get to the feed trough, got to the feed trough.”
She pleaded with him to allow her to disperse some of the horses, but Byrialsen assured her he was buying a new farm in Poland where it was cheaper to maintain the horses.
So she was stunned to learn the situation had gotten so much worse in Poland. “I have been to his farm and have ties to Come Back and, having so much success with my horse, this just rips me apart!” she said. “It is so, so sad and so unnecessary.”
More than 50 horses were removed from the Polish stud farm after authorities discovered the neglect, but Byrialsen had around 300 horses there.
Konyot’s Olympic mount Calecto V is also by Come Back II, and Byrialsen is sometimes listed as a part owner of the horse.
"He bred the horse [Come Back] to a mare owned by a woman, and he bought him back as a foal and then sold him as a 5-year-old to another woman," explained Konyot. "I later bought [Calecto] from her at auction. The man never owned the horse when I bought him. The reason he was ever even on my horse's passport was a mistake. But [Byrialsen] just lied and lied and lied about the whole thing because he is a terrible, terrible liar and a businessman.
"If you saw Calecto today when I clip him, he has at least a 100 scars on him. And Calecto is one of the lucky ones," she continued. "If you had a horse you love as much as I love my Calecto—he’s my whole life—those are his brothers and sisters in that video! I watched that video 50 times! Watch it! Feel it! Get angry; get pissed off!"
The trio has reached out to Byrialsen via phone and email after watching him speak to a Danish TV news station on Aug. 16.
“John, on the interview, specifically says how he has no solutions,” said Lipp. “We are going to give him a solution. We are going to go over there and offer him X amount of money for these horses and evaluate them.”
“We will try to buy up the ones that need the most help, that are salvageable and can possibly go on to have a good life,” agreed Harding. “Those that are too far gone will need to be euthanized. We feel an obligation to these horses. Words cannot describe how horrified I was. He needs to be in jail.”
Assuming Byrialsen is agreeable to relinquishing the horses, their plan is to place them with friends in Europe.
“I have a lot of friends in Germany for those horses that are fit to travel, and they would rehab there and be evaluated for what was best for the horse: Is it going to be a broodmare because it had a leg infection that never got treated, or is it going to be able to be recover and come back into the sport?” said Harding.
“There are plenty of good people in Denmark and Poland who will take the horses,” said Lipp. “If it’s the last thing I do, I will find a place for every single one of them.”
Currently, the group has put on one small fundraiser with another planned. Follow their Facebook pages for more information. Their main goal is to make contact with Byrialsen and begin the process of caring for these horses.
“I don’t care about John. I want to get those horses out of that situation. Sometimes you have to rock the boat and be the one who speaks up. I think Shawna, Tina and I are good loud voices, and hopefully he’ll hear our roar!” said Lipp.