Here and there, my PSA `fans’ have accused me of being biased when it comes to the Thoroughbred breed and their stance on slaughter. By and large, the industry stance is anti-slaughter and there are many dedicated rescue and rehab programs to give racehorses a better chance at finding a home after their racing days are over. As a breed, I think they do more than any other as far as trying to keep their horses out of the pipeline. However, this does not exempt all Thoroughbred owners from being asswads and it doesn’t make all Thoroughbred rescues above reproach. In recent weeks a horrific neglect case in Louisiana has come to light and the story behind it brings about many questions. It’s a story of gross neglect and cruelty and it’s a story about two rescues and two different approaches. It’s also a story that is far from over.
Ryder River Ridge Farms in Natchitoches, Louisiana was founded by Firal Ryder some years ago. In the past they have been prominent breeders in Louisiana and won many honors, including Louisiana Breeder of the Year. By all accounts, Mr. Firal was a horseman and well-respected in the racing community. He has stood some very useful stallions at his farm over the years including Toolighttoquit, Easyfromthegetgo, Smooth Jazz and Announce. As happens to all of us, Mr. Firal grew older and with that became infirm. At some point, the operation for the farm was turned over to Mr. Firal’s son, Clay Ryder. It is unclear when this transfer of responsibilities actually happened, but by January of 2012 rumors began swirling that all was not well at River Ridge Farms. At its peak, there were at least 150 head of horses on this farm. After hearing reports of problems at this farm, The Louisiana Horse Rescue Association (LHRA), contacted Clay Ryder to offer assistance and also contacted the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s office to ask for an investigation. Remember, this was in January of 2012. The sheriff’s office, in turn, decided there was no reason to cite Clay Ryder or seize his horses, but elected to take his word that he was increasing his care for them and attempting to reduce his herd. In February of 2012, Clay Ryder released 8 emaciated mares to LHRA and had them delivered rather than picked up at his own farm. The mares were in deplorable state, but all but one have since been placed in adoptive homes. Over the next several month, LHRA reportedly attempted to have something done about the situation on Rider Ridge Farms and get assistance to the remaining horses. All of this was handled fairly quietly, although there were rumbles in the horse community about what was going on. No additional horses were surrendered to them until January of this year when Mr. Ryder delivered 18 emaciated 3 yr olds with a promise of more to come. Two of the 3yr olds died shortly after being delivered due to their weakened state. A second group of horses consisting of 6 starving mares, with one confirmed in foal, arrived a few days later. This is where things seem to get very complicated.
From what I can gather by going over numerous articles, blogs and first hand postings about the situation, LHRA were trying to work with authorities and Clay Ryder in getting help to these horses. The problem is, this all came to light a full year ago. There was thought to be at least 100 horses still at the farm when this came to the attention of LHRA and the local authorities, yet only 8 mares were released. The fact that the surrendered horses were delivered should have raised a lot of red flags. The alleged condition they were in upon delivery should have been enough to get the attention and action from local authorities. From what I understand, none of the rescue people actually were given access to the farm and the only horses visible from the road, were in satisfactory shape. Enter Remember Me Rescue (RMR)out of Texas. Remember Me Rescue may be in Texas, but it is run by Dallas and Donna Keen and is a dedicated Thoroughbred rescue and rehab. Dallas Keen is a successful trainer that races in many states including Louisiana. RMR has been involved with many other Louisiana horses in need and has worked with LHRA on a mass seizure last year. While they had been aware of the situation since last year, they had been told that it was under control and `many’ of the horses had been surrendered. However, by January of this year, they began to hear rumblings that the situation was far from handled and any attempts to contact local authorities and rescues provided no solid answers. So, they rented a helicopter and flew over the property. What they found was beyond belief. Emaciated horses unable to stand, mass shallow graves, dead horses with their bones strewn about, and extreme neglect. After pictures from this fly over were released an additional 14 emaciated yearlings were released to LHRA. Since then Clay Ryder has lawyered up and no additional horses have been released. There is thought to be at least 51 horses, breeding stock left at the farm. There have been reports that at least one stallion, Easyfromthegetgo, remains at that farm and is very thin and blind. He is only 14 yrs old. The following is an article from a local paper posted by RMR on their Facebook page on January 26,2013:
Sheriff Victor Jones Jr. said Thursday that his office has been investigating complaints of animal abuse at Ryder’s River Ridge Horse farm for over a year and have been working with the son of the owner to improve conditions there.
Jones said in January of 2012 his office received a complaint of abuse at the farm on Williams Avenue. River Ridge is owned by Firal Ryder and the horses have been in the care of his son, Clay, since his father is in a nursing home.
After getting the complaint, Jones assigned Dep. Rob Walsworth to the case. Walsworth visited the farm and found some horses in poor condition. Walsworth arranged for visits by a state veterinarian and representatives of the La. Brand Commission. After that, Jones said that Clay Ryder began working with officials to improve the conditions and began taking some of the original 150 horses to rescue facilities.
Jones said there were 150 thoroughbred horses on 60 acres at the farm, an area too small to support that number of horses.
Walsworth made about 20 visits to the farm during the last year with the last one being Dec. 8. “Some of the horses were down in weight but there was nothing alarming,” Jones said. “And Clay was working with Rob and did everything we asked him to do.”
Jones said there was one dead horse on the farm but he had no way of knowing what killed the horse.
Jones said the furor over the conditions at the farm escalated last week when members of a horse rescue group, Remember Me Rescue, began calling his office about the conditions.
The group also began an e-mail and social media awareness campaign about conditions at the farm. In an e-mail they wanted Clay Ryder charged with “a felony count for every dead horse and cruelty charges for every other horse.”
Jones said that over the weekend, a La. State Police helicopter flew over the farm. La. State Police then met with Jones and Walsworth and requested they arrest Ryder. Jones said he told them he would not arrest Ryder because of his past cooperation.
He said Ryder then contacted attorney Bill West and on Tuesday they met with Jones and Assistant District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington. The result was that they gave Ryder another 30 days to improve the conditions and step up the efforts to get rid of the horses, to which Ryder agreed.
“He put out more hay on Wednesday and he’s trying to get rid of the horses,” Jones said. “We told him to take care of it or we will arrest him.”
Jones said Ryder inherited too many horses to take care of and should have taken better care of the horses than he did.
Jones said he believes the horses are being better cared for now and believes Ryder will take more action. “I owe it to him to be fair. After all his cooperation over the past year, I wasn’t going to hastily get a warrant. He’s making progress.”
Jones said there are about 57 horses left at the farm.
There are some important things to know about the local authorities in this situation. Sheriff Jones is either straight up lying about monitoring the situation or he has no business assessing the condition of any animal. The District Attorney happens to live on the same road as Clay Ryder, yet nobody will bring charges against him. It should also be noted that the Ryder family has other business interests besides horses with some of their partners said to be quite powerful in local politics. What you see at play here is the stereotypical good ole boys network looking out for one of their own. Why should Clay Ryder be given a single day longer to clean up this mess? He’s had a year to make this right and by all accounts and pictures, things have only gotten worse. The only thing that has been accomplished is he’s been allowed to keep these animals until they are so sick, starved and weak, they can hardly stand up and then dump them on LHRA and let them pick up the vet bills. Why is Sheriff Victor Jones Jr. covering this up?
I think it should be noted that both LHRA and RMR are great rescues. They have both done a lot of good for the horses they have managed to save. What the River Ridge Farms situation highlights for me is the question of how far you need to go when you know abuse is going on. Clay Ryder has refused to allow anybody on his property to see his horses. For somebody that is running a breeding operation, that’s a pretty big red flag considering stallion viewings at the very least are quite common. It would seem that LHRA tried to gain his trust and cooperation thinking that was the better way to save the most horses. Apparently, that wasn’t the right way in this case. Clay Ryder was still racing horses under his farm name as of January 18th, so clearly he was selective in which ones he was neglecting. There is no way this situation should have taken a full year to play out when horses were dying horrible deaths due to neglect and starvation. It is absolutely sickening that there are still horses on that farm that could be suffering, including mares in foal. Yes, it’s always better to get a surrender in these cases, but when no more horses were being given up and Ryder wasn’t allowing anybody other than his cronies from the Sheriff’s office to see his animals, then swift and immediate action should have been taken. Thankfully, RMR took matters into their own hands and did the fly over. Thankfully Donna Keen elected to speak up and uncover what is really going on. As of right now, all the horses that have been surrendered are under the care of LHRA and they could use donations. RMR has been reimbursed for the rental of the helicopter but the have other rescue horses they support as well. Both rescues are worthy of support. This is a very complex and sad story that isn’t over. Hopefully, there will be happier updates in the coming weeks.