Breeders' Cup Sprint winning trainer Maria Borell, who in 2016 was implicated in a mass animal cruelty case, has been suspended from her membership at the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF).
Borell, who has an active warrant in Mercer County, Ky., for 43 counts of second degree animal cruelty, began competing this summer in hunter shows recognized by the USEF, the national governing body for most equestrian sports. According to her USEF member record, Borell has shown at the New York State Fair and the Autumn In New York events aboard a horse named Fire On The Mountain, who is owned by professional Sarah Agan out of Eaton, N.Y.
Agan told the Paulick Report Borell had the horse on a six-month lease which ends on Nov. 9.
“I was not aware she has any active warrants,” Agan said via email. “I have never had any negative encounters with Maria and cannot comment on her past as I just met her in May of this year.”
USEF released the following statement Wednesday:
“We have been made aware of a member who recently joined our organization and is involved with unresolved criminal charges stemming from an animal cruelty investigation in 2016, for which there are outstanding arrest warrants in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This member has been temporarily suspended effective immediately and we are investigating the allegations, which if substantiated, could prevent participation in future USEF-licensed events. As an organization, we remain committed to ensuring horse welfare and safety at all levels of equestrian sport and do not tolerate any form of equine neglect and/or abuse.”
The U.S. Hunter/Jumper Association, of which Borell is also a member, told the Paulick Report that a competitor's ability to enter USHJA-recognized shows is dictated by their USEF membership.
“We were not aware of the outstanding summons against Maria Borell, and unfortunately do not have a way to know this unless information is brought forth to the USHJA or US Equestrian,” said USHJA spokeswoman Louise Taylor. “As the official hunter/jumper affiliate of US Equestrian, we are governed by USEF rules and regulations. Were she to be convicted and USEF imposed a suspension or ban (per rule GR615), it would apply to her USHJA membership as well.”
Borell's suspension will not prevent her from competing in shows which are unrecognized by USEF or USHJA, such as lower-level schooling shows. It will prevent her from entering or competing in shows that are sanctioned by either entity.
In 2016, not long after Borell-trained Runhappy won the Breeders' Cup Sprint and she was subsequently fired by owner Jim McIngvale, questions began popping up on social media about the care of horses at a property in Woodford County, Ky., leased by Borell and her father Charles. The Borells rented a property in Mercer County and moved the horses there. County law enforcement, animal control, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture discovered more than 40 horses there in various states of neglect, some of which were severely emaciated. State officials took over the Mercer County property, where volunteers and charitable organizations cared for the horses in place for several months before they were finally released as abandoned.
Maria Borell maintained throughout the ordeal that the horses belonged to her father and she was unaffiliated with their care, despite being listed on documents for his Beacon Hill Farm as manager.
Charles Borell entered an Alford plea to nine of the 43 animal cruelty charges in September 2016, meaning he did not admit wrongdoing but conceded there was enough evidence against him to bring conviction.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Mercer County Fiscal Court sued both Borells in Mercer County Circuit Court seeking $20,000 they spent taking care of the horses abandoned on the property. That case was closed in 2018 for lack of prosecution.
Borell was later revealed to have a history of unpaid bills for rent, veterinary services, and horse feed.
In late 2018, Borell's attorney petitioned the court to have the warrant against her over the 43 counts of animal cruelty converted to a summons (which would have required her to appear in court but not triggered an arrest), but the petition was unsuccessful. All 43 counts are misdemeanors, and Borell cannot be extradited from another state on misdemeanor charges. So far, she has not returned to Kentucky to face those charges.
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