South Carolina horse owners in Greenville and Spartanburg Counties are on high alert after a string of bizarre pasture incidents left at least three horses dead and multiple others with serious lacerations and puncture wounds over the past few weeks.
Debra Howell found her son’s retired Thoroughbred mare in the field in Campobello, South Carolina, on the morning of Nov. 4 with severe lacerations, including a deep wound to her chest according to WSPA 7News. The Howell family euthanized the mare and contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. A wildlife biologist said the injuries didn’t appear consistent with a wild animal attack, and the Howells are offering a $1,000 reward for information.
Three days later, two horses were found a few miles down the road from the Howells’ farm with lacerations on their legs. Those horses were treated and survived.
Ann McGinnis’ 24-year-old Quarter Horse gelding Trigg was euthanized after he was found in his 40-acre Campobello pasture on Nov. 13 with a severe laceration on his lower leg and a deep puncture wound in the abdomen according to GoUpstate/Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Bibi Freer, DVM, stitched up another horse that had severe wounds in Campobello on Nov. 16. “Lacerations we typically see in the field by a piece of wire, a hook or nail or broken fence have sharp edges; we have to be innovative in how we stitch them up,” she said. “This was a straight laceration: The edges were clean, not torn. It had to have been a sharp instrument, not a wire cut or a fence board or things you generally find in pastures. I don’t think it was a wild animal. Police were there investigating the scene, probably eight cars full of them.”
Following the death of the Howells’ horse, a media release from the Spartanburg County Environmental Enforcement Department stated: “On November 7 the Senior Animal Control Officer met with the owner onsite and gathered all available evidence and Environmental Enforcement has also reached out to surrounding counties to see if they have encountered any incidents of this nature. At this time this is an open investigation.”
James D. Nelson II, director of the Spartanburg County Environmental Enforcement Department, said in an interview that these attacks are unusual. “When it comes to equines our typical cases involve neglect issues,” he said. “It is early in the investigation. As of yet, the agency has little to no hard evidence; my department has asked if anyone in the public has any information, please contact my office at 864-596-3582.”
In addition to the Campobello incidents, a horse was shot and killed 25 miles away in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. The Peterson family’s 20-year-old gelding Chance went missing on Nov. 15, and after a weekend spent searching, they found him dead with multiple gunshot wounds.
The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office posted that they are investigating Chance’s death as well as an earlier incident where Ben Few’s horse Maggie Mae was found the morning after Halloween near Greer, South Carolina, standing in the road and bleeding heavily from multiple cuts and wounds.
South Carolina horse owner Deb Messmer has compiled a list of incidents and shared them in a public post on Facebook.
The state law enforcement division has gotten involved, and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is aware of the situation and has been in contact with local officials.
A community meeting took place on Nov. 17 at the Gowensville Community Center, in Campobello, with around 100 attendees. The meeting was moderated by local dressage trainer and professional comedian Pam Stone.
“The standing room only crowd and the numerous rapid-fire questions made it clear people are unsettled and wanted answers,” said Stone. “It was initially frustrating for some to hear that protocol has to be put into place and more manpower needed. But in the immediate aftermath, we were told we had the governor’s ear, and the wheels are turning. I’m quite confident the meeting accomplished what we hoped: to be heard and see timely results.”
During the meeting Lt. Kevin Bobo, public information officer for the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, explained that animal control is currently handling these cases in Spartanburg County, with the Sheriff’s Department assisting.
“As of now, three incidents have been reported in Spartanburg County,” he said, pointing out that the numbers look much higher on social media but acknowledging that not all incidents have been reported.
Residents were encouraged to alert law enforcement to any unusual incidents involving their horses or properties.
“Instead of burying your horse yourself, have your vet and the [South Carolina Department of Natural Resources] look at the horse and send samples to the diagnostics lab,” said Anita Williamson, who works at the Tryon Equine Hospital in Columbus, North Carolina, and is the executive director of Polk Equine Emergency Rescue. “There will be evidence whether injuries are caused by a buck in rut, a wild boar or a machete. Unless you’ve got someone on camera, you don’t have evidence. If you see anything, take a video, take photos, and don’t disturb any physical evidence like shell casings or broken fencing. Also, remember that sometimes, horses just do stupid things.”
A number of local residents said they’ve been patrolling their property with firearms. “You have the right to defend your property,” said Bobo. “However if you find somebody in your pasture, unarmed, you can’t shoot them! If they’re armed, that’s a different story. But you’d better make sure that’s a weapon in their hand, not a cell phone or a flashlight.”