A show jumping mount named Phedras de Blondel recently purchased from France by Debbie Stephens was found butchered on Stephens’ Centennial Farm early in the morning on Oct. 25. The gelding was found in a back area of the Palmetto, Fla., property; all four legs and large slabs of his body were taken.
Stephens and her husband, top course designer and former show jumper Steve Stephens, called the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the crime.
“We went out, and it was quite a gruesome scene,” said Dave Bristow, public information officer at the sheriff’s office. “We don’t know exactly when the crime occurred—sometime overnight, leading into Sunday morning.
“At this time what we have to go on is the fact that someone came onto the property and slaughtered the horse and took the meat,” he continued. “We’re going on the premise that they did it to get the horse meat. We don’t have any reason to say they targeted this horse. This is a very expensive horse. You’d get more out of [stealing] the horse than from gutting the horse.”
Phedras de Blondel, a 12-year-old Selle Francais (Fetiche du Pas—Phedra Rateliere, Belphegor IV), previously competed up to the CSI**** level with France’s Christian Hermon, and he was imported after Debbie purchased him. He’d been out of quarantine about two days.
“He happened to be in the wrong stall at the wrong time,” said Steve. “They didn’t even walk him out with a halter; they just put a little rope around his face and nose, and then they took him about 150 yards out to the furthest paddock, just off the property line, and they slaughtered him. It was about 40 feet from a four-lane highway. That’s where they backed up their vehicle and did their slaughter and escaped.
“As good as they carved this horse out, you know it’s not the first one they’ve ever done,” he added. “It’s unbelievable. To see what was left of the horse is the most unbelievable thing. The only thing left was his head, neck and rib cage. They had the right tools for this.”
Bristow said this was the first case of its kind the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has investigated. He’s not aware of a large black market for horse meat in the area, which is located south of Tampa, or of any connection to recently discovered illegal slaughterhouses in the Palm Beach, Fla., area, though the office is now investigating those avenues. Though the Stephens had a security camera in their barn area, the fact that the crime occurred at night means there’s nothing visible on the tape.
“Obviously there’s a little bit of a demand for horse meat. If they were doing this there for horse meat, somebody is wanting it,” said Bristow. “As for now, we’ll just keep researching, keep following whatever leads we get, but we need help here from the public. This is the type of crime here that’s difficult to solve—someone coming onto a property in the middle of the night, and it’s pitch black.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is requesting anyone with tips in the case call a Crime Stoppers hotline at 866-634-TIPS or their office at 941-747-3011. There is also a fundraising effort begun to raise money for a reward for information leading to an arrest.
“We’re getting a really unbelievable response to people reaching out and donating for the reward money,” said Steve. “Sometimes when you don’t have a whole lot of evidence, having someone who knows what’s going on other than the people who did it, you just hope one of them will want to claim the reward. We figured that was probably the best way to go, and the police are in agreement. He wasn’t insured, and Debbie hasn’t even thought twice about that aspect of it. She’s just out to get the people who did this.”
Update: The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office released a photo of two unidentified men on Nov. 5, saying they may have information about the case. But the office updated on Nov. 8, stating that the men had no information on the case or involvement with it.