Indignation, fear and anger ripped through the close-knit equestrian community of the northeast San Fernando Valley after a dead young mare that had been either shot or beaten — or both — was found tied up along a narrow road in Sylmar on Saturday, April 9.
“That’s f….up,” said Horacio Guerrero of Rancho Hacienda Chiquita in Sylmar, who added he’d never heard of such a thing before.
“A man doesn’t do that,” noted Guerrero, who’s lived with horses all his life. “You take care of animals, they’re like family. You see the horses grow up and it’s like seeing your kids. It’s got to be a crazy person whoever did that. You take care of your horses, you appreciate them. You don’t hurt them.”
The last time anyone saw “Shakira” alive, she was physically sound and was leaving a horse ranch at a cul-de-sac along the 11700 block of Kagel Canyon Road in Sylmar, next to the 210 freeway.
That was a couple of days before the white mare was found dead, her mouth and neck wrapped with a rope that extended all the way to her tail, which was tied to a pole across the street from the horse ranch with the stables she called home.
“It was horrible,” said the owner of that ranch, who did not give her name. “I’ve never seen this before,” she said.
On Monday, April 11, signs of the crime were still visible. A puddle of dried blood, excrement and hay were next to the pole where the horse was tied up.
The LAPD Animal Cruelty Task Force continues to investigate.
The crime is particularly heinous in the horse-loving community known for its Charro and equestrian tradition. You can often see people riding horses in Sylmar and surrounding areas, especially in the area where the horse was killed — the end of a narrow lane dotted with horse ranches that stretch to the Hansen Dam Recreation Center, where horse trails are part of the norm.
Nicole Chase, whose family owns the Monte Verde Ranch — a horse boarding facility in Sylmar that also offers horse riding classes — echoed those sentiments.
“Something that horrible is just evil,” said Chase, who added she was flooded this week with calls and emails from fellow horse lovers worried and saddened by the tragic event.
“To do that to an innocent animal, there’s no terminology for the level of cruelty and lack of humanity,” Chase said.
Aaron Lasley, manager of the Monte Verde Ranch and Chase’s brother-in-law, expanded on the anger being felt by horse community.
“We’re devastated by this,” Lasley said. “I wouldn’t push it much further than dogs and cats, but these people go out of their way tremendously to take care of these animals. They’re family members. We treated our facility here like a day care. You can’t just come in and look at or touch a horse because these are like people’s family.
“The horse community is very tight-knit. This has echoed so strongly throughout all the barns, the owners and the borders.”
Chase said she and other ranch owners have redoubled their security concerns.
“When something like this happens, it makes us aware that we have to secure our areas and take care of our horses,” Chase said.
“Shakira” was not a pure bred, so it was not marked like other horses, the anonymous ranch owner said. She said the horse was well behaved and physically sound.
The ranch owner said there had been a change in the horse’s ownership. She had seen the new owner taking the horse away in a truck.
“Next thing I saw (was this),” the owner said.
Detective Eric Bixler of the LAPD’s Foothill Division said that sometime between midnight and 7 a.m. on April 9, “someone beat and/or killed a horse and left it with its tail tied to a telephone pole with a rope.”
“This was done intentionally and maliciously. It’s very strange, this whole thing,” Bixler said.
The animal was transported to San Bernardino, where a necropsy was to be conducted to determine the exact cause of death, Bixler said. But investigators have already determined that the animal was badly beaten and suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
At press time, task force investigators said they were still waiting on the results of the necropsy. While detectives have said “We believe we will be able to identify who did this,” no arrests have been made so far.
Animal cruelty is a violation of California Penal Code Section 597, and includes any activity that causes injury, disability or death of an animal. Examples of animal cruelty include kicking, hitting, choking, punching, hanging, stabbing, shooting, setting on fire, electrocution and animal hoarding.
It is punishable by between 16 months and three years imprisonment in a state prison, or by a fine of not more than $20,000, or by both the fine and imprisonment. If a deadly or dangerous weapon is used to commit the crime, an additional year can be added to the prison sentence. If a defendant has two prior violent felony (strike) convictions, a conviction for animal cruelty can be the third strike, which results in a sentence of 25 years to life.
The FBI announced in January that acts of animal cruelty are now counted alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in the FBI’s criminal database.
“I don’t know why anyone would do that,” the ranch owner reiterated. “I want him arrested, whoever did this.”