‘Unfathomable’: Horses In Dire Condition As Animal Neglect Investigation Drags On

by | 06.27.2016 | 1:27pm
Silver Cliff at Beacon Hill Farm in 2011. Silver Cliff is among the horses identified on the state's website

The horse pictured above is named Silver Cliff. He's a gelding by Silver Charm, born in 2002 and was nine years old when this picture was taken at Beacon Hill Farm, a Central Kentucky boarding operation owned by Charles Borell and managed by his daughter Maria. Maria Borell had just taken possession of Silver Cliff in June 2011 and posted the photo on the Beacon Hill Farm Facebook page.

Silver Cliff brought $75,000 as a yearling and was a $170,000 buyback at a sale of 2-year-olds in training but wasn't successful as a racehorse. The best he could do in five career starts as a 4-year-old in 2006 was a third-place finish at Belmont Park while carrying a $40,000 claiming price.

Upon his retirement from racing, Silver Cliff was placed with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex just north of Lexington, Ky., where retired Thoroughbreds are used to help inmates learn vocational skills and improve their self-esteem.

Around that same time, Kylie Bax, an internationally known model from New Zealand who had purchased a 100-acre Central Kentucky farm to set up a boutique Thoroughbred breeding operation, was in the market for an off-track Thoroughbred for pleasure riding. A friend put her in touch with the TRF; she was introduced to Silver Cliff and eventually adopted him.

Bax called him “Vouke,” a shortened, phonetically spelled version of Alexander the Great's horse Becephalus. She had the horse for several years, but her personal circumstances changed and she wound up having to move to Europe. Bax contacted a friend, Carrie Gilbert, and asked if she knew of someone who might be able to take Silver Cliff so he could “continue to be loved and ridden.”

Gilbert, who works for a major international racing and breeding operation, spends much of her spare time placing retired Thoroughbreds in the right hands, and does so without being compensated. “I just play the middle man. I love the Thoroughbreds and want to find them homes,” Gilbert said.

She thought she found a perfect match. A young rider in Midway, Ky., was looking for a horse to train as a hunter-jumper. “She took him,” Gilbert said, “but neurological issues were detected and it was unsafe for him to be a jumping horse.”

Bax made it clear that she would be willing to take Silver Cliff back and pay for his upkeep if the need arose. “She wanted someone else to enjoy him and for him to have a job – if he could,” Gilbert said. “She's always cared about him.”

Gilbert took Silver Cliff back and, as she often does, wrote a post on her Facebook page about the horse's availability for the right home.

Gilbert was contacted by Maria Borell.

“She said she loved Silver Charm, that he was her favorite horse,” Gilbert recalled. “She said she might use him to pony yearlings or have him as a companion horse.”

On June 28, 2011, Borell signed an agreement to take Silver Cliff and not sell or give him away “without written notification to Kaylie Bax prior to said horse changing ownership.”

Gilbert said Borell began posting pictures on Facebook of her and Silver Cliff. Borell and Bax corresponded, Gilbert said, and the horse seemed to be well-kept and healthy.

At some point, however, things began to change.

As Borell and her father moved the Beacon Hill operation from one leased farm to another, leaving behind unhappy landlords and unpaid bills, questions began to arise on social media about the condition of some of the horses.

Earlier this year, Gilbert got wind of the rumors and sent Borell an email asking about Silver Cliff, telling her that she would be happy to “take him and let him be a pasture pet at my farm. I would be more than happy to pick him up if he's local.”

Gilbert said she got no response from Borell.

In early December 2015 – one month after Borell saddled Runhappy to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland and subsequently was fired by owner Jim McIngvale – the Borells' Beacon Hill operation moved from a farm owned in Clark County after owner Kara Harrison had tried to evict them. They landed in Woodford County at Stonegate Farm, owned by Dr. Stephen Pomeranz, a Cincinnati radiologist. Neither of the Borells were present for most of the winter, according to Adam Smith, who manages the property for Pomeranz. “Employees stopped showing up in the middle of winter because they weren't getting paid,” said Smith.

“I've been here 12 years and there are people who have leased this property who treated horses exceptionally well,” Smith said. “The conditions here were deplorable: No farrier, no vet, no grooming, minimal food. A bad, neglectful scene.”

Pomeranz, the farm's owner, was notified of the conditions and he authorized the purchase of feed for the approximately 40 horses the Borells had moved to Stonegate.

Apruptly, in mid-May, the horses were transferred by the Borells to a farm on Martin Lane in Mercer County, near Harrodsburg. The farm is owned by a Tennessee resident.

Officials in Mercer County, including Sheriff Ernie Kelty, were notified after publication of a story by Margaret Ransom on the USRacing website May 26 that some of the horses on the farm were emaciated and that no one was feeding them or providing fresh water. The county's animal control office and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture were also notified. Subsequent articles with photographs of the horses were published at USRacing here and here.

Kelty met with Charles Borell in the sheriff's office in early June, but said Borell then returned to his home in New York. Maria Borell, who was in Florida training horses for Drawing Away Stable until she was fired in mid-May, has not been seen since the horses were moved from Stonegate to the Mercer County farm.

Maria Borell denied in a May 17 text message to the Paulick Report having anything to do with what she said was her father's business.

Volunteers began showing up to feed the animals with donated hay. On June 2, a Lexington television station reported on the alleged animal neglect without naming the Borells as the tenants of the Mercer County farm.

Carrie Gilbert heard that Silver Cliff was one of the horses in dire condition.

She immediately contacted Kelty, along with Shane Mitchell, the lead investigator on the case for the state's Department of Agriculture, providing Silver Cliff's tattoo number. After Silver Cliff was positively identified as one of the horses on the property, Gilbert asked the sheriff and the state if she could take possession of the horse. So did the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which has ultimate claim of ownership.

Nothing has happened since. Photographs taken by individuals who visited the property on the night of June 24 showed severely underfed horses with feet badly in need of care. One of the horses in the worst condition, a gray gelding, is believed to be Silver Cliff.

Pictured on the night of June 24, this horse is believed to be Silver Cliff

Pictured on the night of June 24, this horse is believed to be Silver Cliff

State officials say the horses are being fed and cared for. The volunteers, including Angie Cheak, a Harrodsburg woman that Kelty said was among those “working with Mr. Borell” to take care of the horses, posted a link on Facebook to a GoFundMe page to raise money for food and veterinary care.

Cheak said she could not comment when contacted by the Paulick Report.

Mary Ann Kelley, another volunteer who has been helping take care of the horses on the Mercer County farm, on Monday morning posted a message on her Facebook page that she has “been hinting about this horrendous abuse thing for a couple of weeks – but was warned by authorities to be silent or I could be held responsible for destruction of evidence?!! I felt intimidated by these officials to the point I was afraid of what they would accuse me of – prosecute me for helping these wonderful horses!”

Last Thursday, Kelley posted photographs on Facebook of several of the horses that were in poor condition and wrote: “I'm on a mission that will probably get me a heck of a lot of trouble. I don't care! These horses (need) medicine – we can't afford a vet; don't know what the you-know-what we're going to do!!!!”

Kelty said he is no longer leading the investigation.

“Two days after it was reported to us, the state took over,” he said. “If Mitchell calls and requests us to do something, we take care of it. Me and my deputies three different times have delivered 125 bales of hay out there. I'm going to ask for restitution for the folks who are donating the hay to me. Also, one of the local horse individuals has donated 10 bags of feed.

“I do know the state vets have been out there a couple of times,” Kelty continued. “I took my personal vet (Dr. LeMayne Ellis) out there a couple of times, too.”

Kelty said he can't release any of the horses until Mitchell presents evidence to the county's district attorney, who he said has been on vacation.

“I keep getting told other people own these horses, but nobody has shown me that,” Kelty said. “I keep getting told by Borell that they own the horses.

“People need to get ahold of Officer Shane Mitchell and show them proof of ownership.”

Kelty is frustrated the investigation is taking so long.

“I want this over with,” he said. “I want this resolved. We've been dealing with this for weeks. I talked with Mr. Borell (Saturday), and he is still in New York. This has engulfed my sheriff's office and we're not even the lead investigators. My main concern is the well being of those horses. I want these horses taken care of while this investigation is going on, and I'm doing everything I can.”

Rusty Ford of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said state veterinarians have monitored the horses but could not comment on the investigation. Neither Charles nor Maria Borell answered telephone calls or responded to text messages.

Bax, who contacted the Paulick Report by email, said she is heartbroken over the condition of Silver Cliff. She fears he may die.

“It's unfathomable that the sheriff won't allow someone to correctly feed and take care of the horses let alone allow the owners and care givers to take these horses home,” Bax said. “Every one of us can provide shelter and vet care but we can't when the sheriff won't allow us to. There will be a riot of animal rights if these horses are not tended to right away.”

UPDATE: Silver Cliff and Z Camelot, another among the 43 abandoned horse at the Mercer County farm, were taken to a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation facility on Tuesday. For details, read Carleigh Fedorka's commentary.

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