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Trial Cancelled in Double D Ranch Case

Editor’s note: The following is reprinted from the (Lexington, Ky.) Herald-Leader.

By Greg Kocher

VERSAILLES, KY -- When a tissue-destroying substance was injected into the legs of five American saddlebred horses boarded at a Woodford County farm in June 2003, it sent shock waves throughout Central Kentucky.

No one was ever criminally charged in the attacks, which drew attention from ESPN, The New York Times and others. And yesterday, a Woodford Circuit Court judge ruled that there was no willful negligence on the part of the boarding farm, Double D Ranch, or its owners, Dena and David Lopez.

"These horses were injured by a willful act, but there is no evidence to connect that act to Ms. Lopez or her agents or employees," Judge Paul Isaacs wrote in a 13-page opinion and order entered into the record of a civil lawsuit.

"I would characterize it as a major victory for Dena Lopez and Double D Ranch," said William Rambicure, the Lexington attorney who represented the farm. "There was no evidence of any intentional wrongdoing on the part of Dena, which is what we maintained throughout."

The attacks happened June 28, 2003, days before the Lexington Junior League Horse Show, the world's largest outdoor show for saddlebreds. The injections caused gaping wounds, and three of the animals, including the champion show horse Wild-Eyed & Wicked, had to be put down.

A three-week civil trial had been scheduled to start Monday in Versailles. But yesterday's opinion and order cancels that trial.

The civil suit goes back to 2004, when Double D sought payment in Woodford Circuit Court from Joe and Sally Jackson of more than $13,000 (including boarding fees, extra hours for grooms, consultation with veterinarians, straw and supplies) for the care of Wicked and another horse after the attacks.

The Jacksons, who live in Kansas, countersued and claimed that Double D Ranch failed to inform them of the injuries to their horses, misrepresented the conditions of the animals and failed to obtain "timely and appropriate" veterinary care.

Under state law, the owners of a boarded horse must show negligence in order to recover damages for injury to an animal.

Isaacs noted in his opinion that Joe Jackson had signed a "release and hold harmless agreement" on Sept. 17, 2001, that released Double D Ranch from liability for personal injury and/or property damage.

"Mr. Jackson made the decision to sign this agreement and he is now bound by that agreement," Isaacs wrote.

On the other hand, the judge found no justification for any of the charges billed by the Lopezes -- the straw and extra hours for grooms, for example -- and ruled in favor of the Jacksons.

The Jacksons and their attorneys could not be reached for comment.

At one point, the civil case had been transferred to federal court, but U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Hood remanded it back to Woodford Circuit Court in late 2005.

Wicked's remains were exhumed in February 2005 from a grave on Double D Ranch. The remains were reburied that July at the Kentucky Horse Park, and a memorial service included the unveiling of a bronze marker of the horse's likeness, sculpted by Sally Jackson.

The crucial questions in the horse attacks -- Who did it, and why? -- remain unanswered.

"I think the only way that anything is going to come out of this is if somebody comes forward and says 'We have information,'" Rambicure said. "That hasn't happened. It's extraordinarily unfortunate that that hasn't happened. We certainly wish that that would happen."

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