The former student of convicted sex offender Dylan Harries, a hunter/jumper trainer formerly based in Cypress, Texas, and deported to his home country of New Zealand after his March conviction, on Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in damages from Harries, his ex-wife, and entities including the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.
The former student, Taylor Jay, alleges in her lawsuit that she moved from Canada, her home country, in 2014 at age 15 to work for Harries and his then-pregnant wife Jessica Law, at his request, at their JNL Stables. From that point until the teen’s departure from their barn in early 2016, she claims she was subjected to abuse by Harries that began with physical neglect and escalated to sexual and emotional abuse. (While the Chronicle typically does not name sexual assault victims, in this case Jay wanted to make a statement to the press using her name, a representative said.)
“The prolonged abuse I endured at the hands of my trainer and mentor left major scars, shattering my trust in others and irrevocably altering the course of my life,” Jay said in a statement announcing her civil suit. “This lawsuit is about more than pursuing justice for the suffering I experienced—it’s about reclaiming my sense of self that was brutally compromised and illuminating the urgent need for systemic change within the equestrian community to protect minor athletes in the future.”
In specific, her suit alleges that physical neglect at the hands of the adults responsible for her care began shortly after her arrival in Texas. While riding a horse under Harries’ supervision, he whipped the horse, causing her to fall off and break her pelvis and requiring air evacuation to a hospital, it claims.
“Ignoring Plaintiff’s injury, Harries forced Plaintiff to ride horses a mere two weeks after Plaintiff was thrown off the horse and life flighted to a hospital,” the suit states. “Plaintiff felt pressured to ride horses despite her pain and injuries, and as a result, she continues to suffer from physical pain and has problems resulting from these injuries. Further, Harries knew his behavior, conduct, and treatment towards Plaintiff while she was recovering from an injury was wrong because he would force Plaintiff to ride horses and then make her go [to] doctor’s appointments on crutches. Harries’ demeanor and attitude towards Plaintiff during the time Plaintiff was supposed to be healing from her injured pelvis marked the beginning of physical neglect and abusive treatment of Plaintiff . . .”
The suit alleges Harries began sexually abusing her in June 2015, when she was 16 years old, after Jay participated in a USHJA Emerging Athletes Program training session in nearby Katy, Texas.
“Harries used Plaintiff’s injuries, the fact that Plaintiff was isolated and alone in the United States, Plaintiff’s vulnerability as a minor, and Plaintiff’s desire to participate and compete in the sport of equestrian, to groom and eventually sexually abuse Plaintiff,” the suit states.
Kissing escalated to oral and penetrative sex acts, none of which the minor could consent to. The abuse took place at Harries and Law’s home, where the victim lived, and while traveling to USEF-recognized shows around the country.
“The unlimited access Harries had to Plaintiff—under the guise of training Plaintiff—enabled Harries to continuously sexually abuse Plaintiff while Plaintiff resided and worked at the JNL Stables and during equestrian competitions and camps that were subject to [USEF] rules,” the suit states.
“Harries’ inappropriate conduct encompassed physical, emotional, and sexual abuse,” it adds. “At all times Harries sexually abused Plaintiff, Harries was aware that his conduct towards Plaintiff was wrong and improper because he made threats to Plaintiff that forced her into silence.”
Two years after the victim left JNL Stables, she finally told a friend about the abuse, the suit states, and later told her mother, who reported Harries to the U.S. Center for SafeSport. SafeSport first suspended Harries in 2019 then made him permanently ineligible to compete in 2020.
Harries was charged by Harris County, Texas, law enforcement with child sexual assault and having indecent sexual contact with a child, both felonies, and convicted of those charges by a jury on March 24, 2023. He was sentenced to three years probation and deported to New Zealand afterward.
Along with realleging Harries’ sexual assault, the victim’s new civil case accuses him of assault and battery for his nonconsensual sexual contact, and accuses USEF, USHJA, the Texas Hunter Jumper Association and JNL Stables of negligent failure to protect her and to train and educate their employees on how to avoid sexual assault situations.
“[D]espite pending SafeSport investigations and a temporary suspension against Harries, during the time of 2018-2023, Harries continued to attend USEF events and remained involved in the sport,” the suit alleges in part. “Plaintiff’s mother received notification from numerous individuals in the sport that Harries continued to attend USEF events, despite his suspension and ongoing SafeSport investigation. This caused additional stress for Plaintiff as she had to continuously worry about Harries being at a horse event or stable, despite his suspension.”
The suit also specifically calls out JNL Stables for failing to protect and care for the minor victim that Harries had invited to work for them.
“My client deserves justice for the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her trainer, and filing this lawsuit is an important step in holding him and the organizations that enabled his abuse fully accountable,” plaintiff’s attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel said in the statement announcing the suit. “Her experience is also indicative of a larger problem in the sport of equestrian and failures by the governing bodies in charge of creating safe environments for minor athletes. USEF and all organizations in this sport must do more to reckon with the widespread prevalence of sexual misconduct.”
USEF and USHJA representatives had not yet been served with the lawsuit in the hours after it was filed. USHJA did not immediately reply to a request for comment, and USEF representative Vicki Lowell said USEF had not been aware of the lawsuit and does not comment on pending legal matters.
“Safety is paramount to USEF,” she added, “and we remain committed to ensuring a safe environment free from abuse for all of our participants.”