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Show Horses Poisoned at Rockridge Farm

As reported by Debbi Baker of the San Diego Union-Tribune

RANCHO SANTA FE — Twenty-three show horses, including two pregnant mares, were deliberately poisoned Thursday by someone who mixed the highly toxic oleander plant with otherwise healthy food and gave it to the animals, a ranch owner said Friday.

One of the horses was already down and sick when workers discovered the poisoning about 6 a.m Thursday at the 10-acre Rockridge Farm on Via de las Flores, said owner Debbie Tomin.

“Someone broke in and tried to kill all our horses,” Tomin said. “They fed them one of the most toxic things a horse can get.”

That horse and two others were rushed to the San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, where they received intravenous treatments. They are expected to recover, Tomin said.

The other horses were given a mixture of mineral oil and charcoal in order to absorb and push the toxins out of their systems. They must be watched for 72 hours and then tested to see if the deadly toxin caused any heart damage, Tomin said.

When workers opened the stall doors in the morning, they found that the animals had been given batches of sliced up apples and carrots mixed in with oleander leaves, Tomin said.

Horses will not normally eat oleander due to its bitter taste.

“Who would want to do something like this? This was totally planned and is totally sick,” Tomin said.

Tomin has owned the privately run business with her husband, Bill, for 30 years. The facility boards and trains about 30 American Saddlebred show horses worth about $2 million.

She said she and her husband get along well with their neighbors and have no idea why anyone would want to harm the animals. Tomin said she does not suspect any of her employees.

Tomin said they think that someone climbed over their large security gate sometime between 2 and 3 a.m. and fed the horses so quietly that no one, including workers who live near the barn, was awakened. When the stall doors were opened the toxic mixture spilled out, she said.

Every horse in the barn was given the substance, and Tomin said she does not know how much each one ate.

“If we didn't act quickly, the horses would have died one by one,” she said.

All of the horse owners were notified, as well as the county Animal Services Department. The Sheriff's Department came out and took a report, Tomin said.

Animal Services Department spokesman Lt. Daniel DeSousa said that without any witnesses there is nothing the department can do. “Our hands are tied,” DeSousa said.

Tomin said she will purchase a security system for the farm. “This will never happen to us again,” she said.

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