Popular Barn Denies Allegations of Unethical Behavior

Huntington's Thomas School of Horsemanship under fire by Northport horse rescue organization.

Northport-based Nonprofit Agency Project Sage Horse Rescue is accusing Thomas School of Horsemanship in Huntington of being careless about the fate of a thoroughbred lesson horse named Rex.

Project Sage Founder Brittany Rostron purchased Rex at New Holland Horse Auction in Pennsylvania Monday, a notorious, hectic operation rife with "kill buyers" who sell horses for their meat. Rostron attends the auctions regularly to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home horses headed down the slaughter pipeline.

According to the Humane Society, in Mexican and Canadian slaughter plants, horses are stabbed multiple times in the neck with a “puntilla knife” to sever their spinal cords. They are hoisted, bled out, and dismembered, often while still conscious.

Horse slaughter is legal in the United States, but the industry was effectively quashed after 2006 when Congress stopped funding agricultural inspections necessary to sell the meat. Since President Obama re-funded the inspections in 2011, a New Mexico meat plant owner hopes to become the first plant to process horse meat since 2007.

New Holland has been the subject of numerous undercover investigations by animal welfare groups for its treatment of horses and other livestock. In 2007 the auction was found guilty of three counts of animal cruelty and, in 2001, it was convicted of 31 counts of animal cruelty against horses.

Rostron and Project Sage Volunteer Coordinator Cadence Kennedy purchased five horses that day to bring back to their Northport barn.

"When walking down the aisle you are bombarded with horse’s behinds," Kennedy wrote on Project Sage's Facebook Page. "Rex was one of the only horses that turned around and gazed at us as we walked by. When examining him and his neighbor, now named “Johnny,” we realized that these horses were not meant to be there. Compared to the others, they were well groomed, shoed and extremely friendly, but a little banged up from shipping."

Rex was presented in the ring by Long Island horse dealer Billy Littleton. Rostron said Littleton is known in the horse community by the nickname "Billy Bang Bang."

"Basically you call him if you have a lame horse to get rid of," said Rostron.

As Rex rang through the ring at auction, Littleton announced that the gelding bay throughbred was from Thomas' in Long Island with bute in his system. Technically, a horse with bute, short for phenylbutazone, a common inflammatory drug, could not be sent to slaughter that day. A kill buyer would have to wait until the drug was out of Rex' system.

Rostron missed the bid on Rex as he ran through the ring and was purchased by Virginia horse dealer Jesse Austin. Rostron approached Austin and offered to buy Rex for $100 over the selling price. 

Austin buys and sells livestock out of Virginia and has sold horses for slaughter. A 2003 Washington Post article on the horse slaughter industry quoted him as saying that an aging, lame horse faces a less cruel fate at a slaughter horse than it does being ridden into the ground as an unfit lesson horse.

When Rostron purchased Rex, she put his picture on the Project Sage Facebook page and received an overwhelming response.

"The next thing I know I have a hundred phone calls, a hundred emails of people saying 'holy crap, my kid rode that horse two weeks ago in a lesson, we know who that horse is,'" said Rostron. Many wanted to know how Thomas could have allowed one of their horses to be sold at New Holland.

Thomas' School owner Nancy Thomas did not say if she knew that Rex would end up at New Holland when she sold him to Billy Littleton. She did say, however, that Rex was never in any danger because she requested that he be returned if he could not be sold as a lesson horse.

Thomas sold Rex, she said, because not enough children could ride him.

"Rex has plenty of life left and I knew he would find a good buyer," she wrote.  "He was not ready to be retired, he needed a home. Thomas School has never sold a horse for slaughter. And never will."

Rostron retorted, "In my opinion when you give a horse to a man named 'Billy Bang Bang' you damn well know it will not end up in the hands of a good person."

Rostron and Thomas have not spoken to each other on the issue although Thomas said she has tried to reach out. Rex is at Project Sage's main rescue barn in Northport.

"Everyone in my organization is just so disappointed to find a Long Island horse at such a low-end horse auction," said Rostron. "People pay thousands of dollars to attend the Thomas horsemanship camp, and the horses can't even be given a nice retirement? This was the retirement he got? To be sent to an auction?"

Laura Graney February 28, 2013 at 10:52 PM
She doesn't state or report anything that disproves her slander. How unfortunate. If you read her blog, she sounds just incredibly immature. I've been a customer of the Thomas School for five years, I have never seen a horse mistreated in the slightest.
Maryann Balletti March 01, 2013 at 12:45 PM
Highly inflammatory, poorly researched article by Leah Bush - see comments for the same article posted on Northport Patch that raises questions regarding the agenda of Project Sage. Also visit Thomas School of Horsemanship facebook page for more information. Leah Bush, who conveniently left out that Jesse Austin confirmed directly to her that he did not intend to sell the horse to slaughter, doesn't seem interested in reaching out to both parties prior to publishing misleading information, and Brittany/Project Sage refuses to accept or return phone calls from Nancy Thomas regarding their "rescue" of Rex. Maybe Bush should "like" BOTH fb pages to gather and review information, not just Project Sage's.
Horsey Love March 05, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Since when is it “unethical behavior” to sell a horse to a new home. This horse was beautiful, well cared for , sound and was bound for his new home in West Virginia when Project Sage decided to buy him. She calls herself a rescue- this horse did not need to be rescued. The assumption that this author implies is that every horse that goes to the sale goes to slaughter. This is not true. 130 horses were sold “as riding horses” that day alone. This horse was not in danger that day. Brittany from Project Sage said “he was too nice to be there”. Then why did she need to “save him”? Project Sage is like a fly on a horses’ back. The fly is so small on the big horse, yet the horse feels it acutely and does all that it can to get rid of it. Knowing that his life is so much more meaningful, teaches so many people to love and care for horses, so much stronger and far more ethical than this nagging fly, it still hurts and needs to be removed. Reputations need to be restored. It is the obligation of this newspaper to do so. Facebook needs to be curtailed. Facebook allows people to respond without true facts. Facebook allows people to hide behind a screen and feel powerful in their unethical accusations. What are we teaching people by allowing this electronic “game of telephone” that we all played as children to become so devastating when it is not based in truth.
Horse Lover April 03, 2013 at 02:14 AM
What I want to know is why no one has asked Brittney the "rescue" why the school barns cant send the horses to her? Why not take them all in Brit instead of going to the sale to get them. Oh and any horse person can see from those pics that those are old wounds not from the shipping and i happen to know for a fact that this horse kickes the hell out out the walls so thats how he got those. You want to get on Billy? He's more of a horseman then you'll ever be! You dont have to be a rescue to save horses and he's bought more horses from those sales in his life time then you'll ever rescue. So why dont you grow up, shut up and offer solution and help in a positive manner, stop using the rescue horses as lesson horses yourself , take care of their feet, feed them and most importantly go check on the ones you do adopt out!
Jeannie Jacobs Parisi October 08, 2013 at 06:05 AM
Well as far as bute leaving their system it never does, it stays in their flesh for good


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »