Family hopes to raise animal abuse awareness following racehorse’s death

01/18/2014 7:34 AM

01/18/2014 7:41 PM

The death of a racehorse in Myrtle Beach in late December prompted a police investigation and a new fund to help owners struggling to keep up with equine care, as at least one animal rescuer says animal abuse is a growing problem.

Trish Sylvester said her family bought Major, an emaciated thoroughbred, Dec. 27. The Sylvester’s were hoping to rehabilitate the horse and had high hopes when he survived his first night. However, he died about 48 hours after the Sylvester’s took ownership, she said.

“Major’s death and condition preceding death was caused by at least two months of severe malnutrition,” a necropsy report from veterinarian Karen Bolton with the Myrtle Beach Equine Clinic.

“He had so many open sores and wounds,” Sylvester said. “It was horrible. He was definitely abused by not giving him the proper food that he needed, but he had these chemical burns on him. The inside of his mouth looked like he had some kind of chain in it. He was a mess.”

Sylvester hopes her family’s experience can bring light to the abuse of animals on the Grand Strand. Two men face charges in connection with Major’s treatment before his death.

Cindy Hedrick, owner and director of SC Coastal Animal Rescue and Educational Sanctuary (CARES) which shelters exotic animals including horses in Georgetown County said animal abuse is on the rise, but isn’t limited to Horry and Georgetown Counties.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that a million pets are abused annually, according to the organization’s most recent information. In South Carolina, most cases of abuse are related to hoarding, neglect or abandonment and fighting, according to

Statistics were not available for the number of abuse cases in Horry and Georgetown counties.

SC CARES, located off Choppee Road near U.S. 701, houses animals like wolves, horses, pigs, cows, chicken, deer, tortoises and snakes. There’s even a llama.

One of the most recent abuse cases is a horse named Sassy that arrived in a malnourished condition similar to Major, in May 2013. With treatment, Sassy has recovered, gaining about 80 pounds by mid-September.

Not all of the animals were abused or neglected, but Hedrick said there are eight at the shelter that were mistreated by previous owners.

Hedrick, who previously was a cruelty investigator in North Carolina, has operated the shelter for seven years. It’s at capacity with more than 170 animals and Hedrick said she’s turned away about 700 since opening because there isn’t enough room or volunteers to help. The animals are not available for adoption.

Hedrick isn’t sure if she sees more cases of abuse now that more people know about the shelter or if the problem is actually growing, but she thinks education and better reporting tools – like anonymous tip lines – could lead to improvements.

“It may be some ignorance, but what we need is some type of safe network for people to be able to report the abuse,” she said. “So many people have seen abuse ... but didn’t tell anybody because they didn’t want to upset anybody or get in trouble with anybody. Animals are suffering because people are scared.”

Sylvester said Major was in bad condition when her family bought him through a barn manager at Steadfast Farms that had purchased the horse from Myrtle Beach area farrier Keith Rabon.

Police charged Rabon, 37, and Colby Sessions, 19, Tuesday with violating an Horry County ordinance for care and treatment of animals. Sessions owned the horse before Rabon. Both men were released on $2,500 personal recognizance bail, according to court records.

Lt. Robert Kegler, with Horry County police, said investigators are not clear who owned the horse when the alleged abuse began.

According to Bolton’s necropsy report said the horse’s skin condition was likely from “months of neglect” and “could have been cured easily” with over-the-counter medications that are not expensive. Finally, she could not determine what caused the patches of hair loss that resembled chemical burns and the other wounds, but said it was suggestive of abuse.

After Major’s death the Myrtle Beach Equine Clinic launched the Major Fund, to help horse owners who cannot afford necessary equine care in hopes to save other horses.

According to Bolton’s necropsy report, the horse’s skin condition was likely “could have been cured easily” with over-the-counter medications that are not expensive. She could not determine what caused the patches of hair loss that resembled chemical burns and the other wounds, but said it was suggestive of abuse.

For more information about the fund or to donate, visit To learn about SC CARES, visit

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at

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