Friday, May. 24, 2024

Byrd’s Nest Retirement Farm Owner Found Guilty Of Animal Abuse

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Over the course of three days last week, inside the Goochland County Circuit Courthouse in rural Virginia, horse owners detailed the horrors of finding their beloved retired pets severely underweight and starving. They had trusted Byrd Rareshide, a professional horsewoman with decades of hunter/jumper show experience, with their care at her retirement farm. 

Rareshide, the owner of Byrd’s Retirement Farm, also known as Byrd’s Nest in Goochland, Virginia, faced 13 counts of animal abuse charges stemming from a February 2023 complaint of animal neglect at her 100-acre farm. After hearing the testimony of horse owners who left their animals in Rareshide’s care and others from within the local horse community, a judge convicted Rareshide, 59, on five counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty Friday, according to court records. 

The February 2023 complaint prompted an investigation into Rareshide’s farm by Goochland County Animal Protection. The investigation resulted in charges being filed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Rareshide was indicted on those charges on Aug. 8, records show.

Rareshide has owned the retirement farm since 1998, according to the Byrd’s Nest website. The facility secured nonprofit status in 2022. Rareshide is a well-known rider and trainer in the hunter/jumper community in Virginia and beyond. She lived at the farm and, per the Byrd’s Nest website, “can see the horses at any given time.” Rareshide has “many wonderful references” and is “loved by the equine community… for caring for retirees,” the website described. She was also a local horse show judge. 

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Local news reports of the trial said Rareshide detailed the routine and health afflictions of each horse in her care when she took the stand. In some instances, reports said she defended her approach and went on to say that it wasn’t uncommon for horses to lose weight during the winter. Veterinarians who testified in court said the emaciation of the horses at her farm was not normal.

Neighbors and other professionals in the equestrian industry took the stand to defend Rareshide during the trial. Many of the horse owners who boarded their animals at Rareshide’s farm lived out of state. 

The five counts of animal abuse were tied to five specific horses—Loki, Patrick, Terra, Opal and Ruby—who lived at Rareshide’s farm, according to local news reports. Loki, a Thoroughbred, had a body score of 1.5 at the time of the investigation. Several horses on the property did not score above a 2 on the 9-point scale. 

Richmond resident Grace Maxwell, who was involved in removing horses from the farm after their condition was discovered and rescued one, a 23-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding called Poofy, was among the people who testified against Rareshide. After the county investigation, Maxwell, who lived nearby in Richmond, became involved in removing the horses from the property, documenting their conditions and sourcing donations for grain and their rehabilitation needs. 

Poofy had spent more than a decade at Rareshide’s farm after a suspensory injury ended his jumping career. Veterinarians gave him a body score of 2. She took over his care from his out-of-state owners who had been out of the horse industry for many years, despite dutifully paying Poofy’s board to Rareshide since he was 13. 

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He was euthanized last summer, Maxwell said, after spending his last months with her family, where he never missed a meal again. The abuse he sustained, like chronic abscesses from untreated Cushing’s disease, left him in pain. The abscesses had been so serious, they’d eroded some of his coffin bone. Maxwell described the three-day trial she attended as “emotionally exhausting but so important.” 

“I cried in the parking lot that Poofy was not one of the convictions,” she said. “I felt like I had a pretty good case, so that was hard for me personally. But my goal has always been to keep it from happening again. Five convictions gets us just as far as 13 would have. Now, hopefully the sentencing will prevent her from ever boarding horses at her farm again.” 

Some horse owners took to social media to share how they felt after the verdict was read. 

“A little over a year ago we were sharing the sad and infuriating stories of the horses removed from Byrd’s ‘Retirement Farm,’” wrote Tosh Bledsoe on Facebook, who owns Ware Fox Farm in Virginia. “While this number represents just a fraction of the horses that suffered deliberate starvation at the hands of someone who knew better, it is still justice served for those who were victimized in this case. I applaud the many strong badass relentless horsewomen who stood up and fought to make this right.”

A sentencing hearing has been tentatively scheduled for May 24.

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