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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 place she called 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 refunded 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 ran 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 School 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 currently 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?"

DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Please excuse the typos and spelling errors. My 3 year old grandson was on my lap making it difficult to type, he hit the send before I could edit. Mea Culpa. I would like to add that we got scammed by a rescue and wound up with two very dangerous horses, even though we told her they were for a backyard situation with our grandchildren. Our balcksmith advised us to send them back because he couldn't even lift their legs. Our vet listed complete lack of care and severe medical issues after she stated they had been at the rescue for over a year.One might assume that they could have been rehabilitated within that year? Goeff
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 12:45 AM
The Humane Society of the United States is a PETA offshoot a bunch of inflamatory scam artists. They are NOT the Humane Society nor the ASPCA. This is a well known fringe group. If that is where the author gets her info she needs to go back to school and learn how to research her sources. Yellow Journalism at its finest.Better yet get a REAL research assistant. Goeff
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 03:00 PM
THis was reported just fine. The person's that Thomas turned their horse over to, is VERY WELL KNOWN in the horse world for doing exactly what happened in New Holland with Rex. Anyone who is associated with horses on Long island is WELL aware of who he is and what he does. This was NOT a mistake, in my opinion. I also disagree that you should put a horse down because you're "done with them" - humans need to understand that they are not GOD nor should they play it. I think before YOU leave such a high opinionated reply to an article that WAS very well reported, you do YOUR research. This was all right on the money.... due to my experiences in the horse world here on LI
Lil Rider February 28, 2013 at 04:14 PM
I just wonder why the School of Horsemanship could not find a nice retirement homne for the horse themselves? Doesn't sound right???? To give the horse to Bang Bang is basically saying: ok, if you can't find a buyer to give the horse a home, find one who can sell it for meat. It is not his fault. He is out to make a buck in the horse world. The school of horsemandship should have inquired about bringing the horse back to them, if that was the deal or take ownership of finding a good home for the horse. Just doesn't sound right to me....
Lil Rider February 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM
I saw the documentaries on the horse slaughters and it is disgusting. The knives, the semi conscious horses being bled out, etc. The horse wasn't "sold" to a private owner looking for a horse for their kid. He was sold to someone who can either get him a home or can't. It's the point of knowingly and acceptingly making a decision that could end in the unethical treatment of animals outside of our US borders. Horseowners play dumb when they want to. To some it is just a business turning a blind eye to reality.
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Anyone KNOWING their horse is going to New Holland knows the risks involved. You can't own a barn without knowing these things unless you're a newb.. and this organization has a long standing.. albeit it may now be tarnished. I wouldn't support them knowing that they're not doing the right thing .. if they can have disregard for the horse, than they have blatant disregard elsewhere... PERIOD
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 04:44 PM
I would really just like to point out that the horse world is a wide, highly controversial world where what everyone things what they do is better than what the other does. Every barn, every owner, every rider has an opinion.. no one does anything (and I mean ANYTHING) without scrutiny to some degree. Where Thomas' thought they were right, we might think they knew better and were wrong.. due to the person involved and the reputation that follows. But, they might have a different relationship with him... who knows. BUT, bottom line, no horse is guaranteed a happy ending going to sale at New Holland. And knowing that makes a huge difference. So if you have a horse you can't afford, or you need to place in a new home.. do your diligence for the animal that has done a lot for you and take the time to do it right!! Don't just throw them away... they're not garbage. And in this case, giving him to someone who happens to be at sales every week.. it's an easy out and an easy solution with uncertain circumstances. Everybody LIES to get what they want, you have to do things yourself if you want them done right... especially with animals. So do the right thing - PLEASE
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 04:55 PM
You are absolutely right Lil Rider.
Dad of Three February 28, 2013 at 05:16 PM
We now have two additional posters attacking Thomas, without any proof that they did anything unethical or anything inhumane or anything at all wrong or inappropriate. We know that the Patch writer failed to follow any decent principle of journalism, and created a diatribe unworthy of anything but birdcage-bottom tabloids, and we know from very specific posters like Lin and Talkinhorse that the "rescue" group is questionable (at best) and that the only other significant source used by Leah Bush has a mixed reputation, so we have an unbalanced and unverified "story" that (1) triggered outrage from ordinary people that know horses and know Thomas and their care and practice, and (2) that revealed shady details about the obvious self-interested "source" of this story, and now (3) that some are coming out of the woodwork, perhaps to defend the declining reputation of a "rescue group" that could be closer to a "scam charity". That potential of a "scam charity" part, of course, has yet to be determined definitively, but I suspect that better journalism sites and sources than the clearly-declining Patch may work on that story in the future.
Lil Rider February 28, 2013 at 06:45 PM
I agree. I don't know the Horsemanship School from a hole in the wall. It's just common horse sense...giving a horse to Bang Bang does not guarantee it goes to a good home. He never said it did. But take responsibility when the horse is showing up at the auction. Did the Horsemanship school offer to buy it back? Surely they were devistatated to see a horse they owned up for auction. Bottom line, a horse is either to be treated as a loving companion that is owed some sort of respect and guarantee for it's well being or treated like livestock with no regard for it's fate. It's up to the owner to decide who to knowingly trust. Do the research
Lil Rider February 28, 2013 at 06:49 PM
So why wasn't Rex given the same treatment?
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Very good point.. DID THOMAS' SCHOOL OFFER TO BUY THE HORSE BACK AFTER LEARNING ALL THIS???
Goin' Commando February 28, 2013 at 07:48 PM
Lil Rider and j2043 seem to be shills for the so-called "charity" that is slandering Thomas School via the complicit courtesy a deficient reporter from Patch.
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 07:53 PM
more like I could care what anyone's agenda is.. at the end of the day, its about the HORSE.. the ONLY innocent one in this entire thing
Lil Rider February 28, 2013 at 07:57 PM
not sure what "shills" means. I don't know this charity from a hole in the wall either. Just want someone to do right by the horse. He is what matters. This horse Rex was traumatized by his experience. Bring him back to the School of Horsemanship. I'm sure he will get a good home now under the direction and guidance of the owner. May be this reporting whether completely acuurate or not, gave him a second chance.
Allie's Grandpa February 28, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Still no response from Patch management or Leah Bush about the totally misleading headline used for this story?????? A good horsemanship school/camp has been maligned, and enough is now clear about this story, and the non-objective business that was the source of most of it, that at least the headline should be changed, ASAP! Regardless of whether the two new posters were shills, or were not, the very badly titled, and badly researched, and badly written Patch story still needs to be remedied.
j2043 February 28, 2013 at 09:08 PM
I'm no one to anyone or anything, if that's what a "shill" is. I saw this story, it struck a cord as an animal rights activist AND horse owner, and I don't understand the exclusivity of why I can't have the right to post but everyone else can?? It kind of is disheartening and honestly, dissing a horse rescue in my eyes might as well just have all these horses killed.. regardless, they're saving lives, not throwing them away.
Allie's Grandpa February 28, 2013 at 09:47 PM
My problem is with Patch, and it's flawed "story", and the lack of Patch management and oversight, j2043. That should be obvious. I don't care whether you are or aren't a shill. So your response is only appropriate for the one who suggested that possibility, and that's not me.
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 09:56 PM
I think what you lack is any real knowledge of what an auction is. They are nnot simply a place where horses go to be sold for meat. Many decent horses come from auctions and many people who buy and sell horses meet there to do business. My trainer took us many a time to look for an inexpensive little horse for the backyard. I grew up riding and had horses . There was many a nice horse that came from dealers even then. The recues are far more damaging to horses as a whole than many of the dealers.
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Leah would do well to research her stories better , perhaps contacting several horse sellers in the area first before getting her wig in a twist by a bunch of unscrupulous people with an agenda. Gossip is dangerous and hurtful, bad reporting and misinformation can destroy people as well as being libel.Goeff
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 10:08 PM
I believe it was stated earlier that they sent the horse to the sale in their name not sold to the dealer that took him. I believe they thought the horse was just not useful in their situation and had some value other than meat. Obviously another dealer bought him to resell. Why is there a controvery in an empty room?Simply because Ms Brittany likes it.She generated it and made an issue out of a non issue to either get attention or start a pryomaniac style agenda. Start the fire then rush in to save the day.,of course for profit oooops I mean "donation" If she didn't she would skip the free advertising and her apparent desire for donations by preying on a very sensitive issue to many people. I feel her altruism is highly suspect.And she got a very green around the ears wannabe reporter to buy into her game. Goeff
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 10:13 PM
From what I have witenessed they are animal hoarders the majority of them. They have selective vision when it comes to the horse's feed, health work etc. I have only seen one that actually employs good professionals to provide necessary care [which costs money btw] The vast majority of them are pretty sad. They horses don't seem to thrive even after a year of what they tell they feed them. Doesn't that tell you anything? Go see for yourself. I'm sure if a rescue is legit they will have no problem showing you their health records, shoing records or anything else.
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 10:14 PM
If it walks like a duck...................Goeff
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 10:17 PM
I have severe doubts about the integrity of either party in reagrds to what is best for the horse. Both seem profit motivated to me. Get the most for the horse from one and get the most from the horse from the other. Where lies the difference? The reporter? Inexerienced in life and her job. Goeff
DR Goeff Clarke February 28, 2013 at 10:22 PM
As a grandfather myself I agree. The damage done is purely profit motivated by both parties on my opinion. The school got some bad press they didn't foresee for a purely "business" decision"[not an animal welfare decision] and the rescue apparently made sure there was enough controversy initiated by a suspect call to a local paper with a green reporter who fell for her game.I think both fail miserably in the honesty and decency department and they both surely failed the horse. Both seem to have their sycophants out in force so by and large in my experience with humans both will profit.
DR Goeff Clarke March 01, 2013 at 05:35 PM
As a medical person I can acknowledge that when you send kids to school they will contract infections. I presume the same is true for horses at auctions IF it it law that a Rescue or quarentine facility needs to isolate their animals for a particular period of time THEN I can attest they do not. My experience is that these so called rescues are simply a tax avoidance scheme competing for the sale dollars just like any other dealer. Mr Littleton sseems to fall within the catagory of ":dealer" all dealers including the rescue needs to have a NY state agriculture license. My suggestion is before you buy or "adopt" any horse you ask to see their license. I was told by the NY State Department of Agriculture that there is only one facility that sells horses on Long Island who has had the license continually in good standing for over 25 years Licensed facilities are inspected Anyone operating as a sales facility or a rescue that brings horses from out of state has to have a license. Do your research and only buy or adopt from reliable, sources. . Horses are not permitted to be shipped interstate without a licensed veterinarians health certificate. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have strict laws that may or may not have been followed here. The entire issue is suspect from every angle with not a single player involved being 100% lawful. The author? Just incompetant.
Jerry Hannon March 02, 2013 at 04:43 AM
For Pam Robinson, how about fixing this? It looks ugly.
Polodude March 02, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I have a couple of questions for Sage. 1st I do not have a problem at all with them charging an adoption fee. Horses are not cheap to feed,Dr, and get ready for adoption. Every animal adoption agency charges some kind of fee. Now. I am a horse owner in the area of Sage. There are actually many horses in the area. When these horses come for the sales, What type of quarantine do they go through? With EHV-1 , EEEV ,West Nile to start with. What about coggins? I do all the vaccinations, But others may not. Again, I do believe they are doing good work saving horses. Now for all that are so opposed to horse slaughter , you really need to research the unintended consequences of the bans. Here is just one article on it. http://thecattleblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/humane-slaughter-of-horses-is-good.html
DR Goeff Clarke March 03, 2013 at 12:35 PM
MY experience with horses goes back several decades and I am well aware of the costs. My point is and was is the rescue was inflamatory, and the reporter bought into a poorly researched story.The Thomas school shrugging off an obviously lame horse as it was stated the horse went through the ring on "Bute" . The shipper/dealer Mr Littleton appears to have been the fall guy. Thomas School was backpeddling faster than a circus clown, The rescue made sure she got a lot of free press and sympathy all the better for digging some gold out of nice people's pockets. They all got outed and none of them had this horse's best interests at heart. Thomas School could have given it to a person who had lower expectations for the small amount they knew they would get at an auction. They chose to do none of the above and made a business decision to get whatever they could for the horse. Maybe not your idea of the right thing but definitely a monetary based decision. The rescue obviously thought they could get $2000 for a horse that was obviously lame if you read between the lines. He was rested for many months to get "sound" er, He was on an anti-inflamatory going into the ring, Mr Austin didn't care he saw a profit even with the Bute. The whole bunch of them need to do some looking in the mirror along with that reporter.Me thinks they doth protest too loudly. Goeff
Horsey Love March 05, 2013 at 02:35 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.

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