Wilson, Wyo., outfitter Forest Stearns was found not guilty last week in the high-profile animal cruelty trial surrounding the Aug. 8, 2017, death of Buddy the horse.
In the acquittal, judge James Radda found that evidence indicated that Stearns was concerned about Buddy.
“The overwhelming weight of evidence is that the defendant did not intend to cause the horse’s death, did not intend to cause injury and did not intend to cause undue suffering,” he writes.
Court arguments claimed that Stearns administered sedatives to Buddy so that he could be shod. Still, the horse kicked farrier Jason Clapp, who then left. Clapp declined to comment on the case to American Farriers Journal.
Stearns and his team claim that he had to finish the job to prevent the horse from injuring itself with nails left exposed.
Meanwhile, Buddy laid on his side.
The timeline of events and alleged methods used to shoe the horse were called into question during the trial.
Becket Hinckley, prosecutor for the state of Wyoming, said that Stearns administered strong drugs to the horse beyond his veterinarian’s advice.
Equine veterinarian Theo Schuff, who has experience shoeing his own horses, condemned Stearns’ methods during his testimony.
“We have rules about how long to keep a horse down. The guts are huge,” Schuff says. “If they’re resting in that position, there’s more pressure on the diaphragm or lungs.”
He clarified that the longest he would leave a horse laying in that position is 30 minutes.
Concerned neighbor Mary Wendell Lampton recorded a video of the horse tied up and laying down at approximately 5:30 p.m., verbally accusing Stearns in the video of animal cruelty. She testified that the horse seemed to have been in that position “for a good bit of time” before she started the video.
Another neighbor, Lindsey Shaw, testified that the horse was still tied up on the ground at 8 p.m.
Still, Radda wrote that “Ms. Lampton’s testimony is not persuasive as it relates to the time when the horse died.”
“The defendant’s estimate as to the time of the horse’s death — approximately 5:45 p.m. — is in stark contrast to the testimony of Ms. Lampton, who testified that the horse was still alive at 8:30 p.m. that evening,” Radda writes.
“Specifically, Ms. Lampton testified that she saw the horse’s ‘final death twitch’ sometime after 8:30 p.m.”
Lampton expressed her disappointment reacting to the verdict, telling Jackson Hole News & Guide that “an acquittal certainly does not forward the rights of animals.”
Hinckley remained optimistic following the decision.
“I think this shows that the Teton County Attorney’s Office takes cases like this seriously, and if people continue to treat animals like this in Teton County we will review them, and if they deserve it we’ll charge them,” Hinckley says.
Stearns’ attorney, Dick Mulligan, also expressed that he was pleased with the verdict.
“I’m delighted for Forest and his family,” he says.