By Margaret Ransom
As the herd of nearly 50 severely neglected horses – almost all off the track thoroughbreds – evacuated in late May from the San Jacinto, California, property known as the California Equine Retirement Foundation (CERF) continue to recover at Helen Meredith’s United Pegasus Foundation (UPF) nearby, questions remain. Many questions. What about the health and well-being of about two dozen or so who remain on the CERF property? What is the status of criminal investigations into their neglect and alleged financial malfeasance? What is the legal status of the foundation, which has had its non-profit designation revoked by the Internal Revenue Service?
The CERF property was purchased by the charity in 2016 and has been maintained by Carrie Ard, who is identified on the organization’s Facebook page as its chief operating officer. Ard was elected to her position in 2014 by a now defunct board of directors immediately after the ouster of CERF founder Grace Belcoure due to concerns about illness and accusations of financial misappropriation of charity funds. A subsequent lawsuit between CERF and Belcoure was settled out of court.
Here’s a look at what’s been happening:
After the first group of more than 20 horses was taken to UPF in late May and early June, Meredith had been able to secure nearly 25 more, all in varying stages of neglect but all improving in her care. Most recently, however, Ard hasn’t allowed any other horses to leave the CERF property and Meredith hasn’t received help from local animal control officers in securing assistance, though she was told one horse has recently been euthanized.
“The ones (rescued) have all made great progress,” Meredith said. “When the first group got here there were about 17 considered critical with the others on varying scales of neglect. The older ones are going to take more time to get their top lines back and such, but they’re all safe and improving.
“I just don’t know about the 20 or so, plus three minis, still left there. I know they’re eating, but I don’t know how much they’re eating and it’s a serious concern with this heat we’ve been having. This time she can’t use the ‘bad weather’ excuse or that she got a bad batch of hay from the winter; we had the same weather and the same hay, she forgets she was telling these things to horse people.”
And as frustrated as Meredith is by the now refusal by Ard to release more horses to her care, she’s more frustrated by the local authorities and their inaction and lack of communication over what may or may not be happening with the horses and the former charity, both in being able to maintain the facility as a non-profit but more important being able to feed the horses.
Meredith said that animal control came out to her property once to photograph and document the initial evacuees in May, but nobody has returned. She also handed over a file of paperwork documenting CERF’s history and charity status to local law enforcement, but hasn’t received a reply or a return call or message despite multiple attempts to contact them.
“Since day one I have been bugging animal control,” Meredith said. “Actually I’ve been bugging them since before and now regularly after I’ve taken so many in. The only thing they tell me is that it’s under investigation. I keep checking up and I get nothing, I’m not getting answers any questions. Is there a criminal investigation into the neglect? Will there be charges? I don’t know why animal control hasn’t pursued criminal action against (Ard). I told them I would take all of the horses because I knew she was broke and didn’t have the money to feed them but they won’t do anything at all. It’s like they’re just waiting for one to
die and I can’t accept that.
“I contacted the local sheriff on the first day this started, on May 26,” Meredith continued. “I gave them the whole package I’d been collecting and maintaining and since then I haven’t heard one word from them. They haven’t returned any calls or emails as well. I don’t know what they’re doing or what it’s going to take.
“The fact is if we hadn’t removed the ones we did, they’d be dead now. I am very worried about the ones who are still there.”
Several phone messages were left with the Riverside County sheriff and district attorney’s office, but there has been no reply.
CERF, which was established more than 30 years ago as a sanctuary for former racehorses, had its non-profit accreditation revoked by the California state attorney general and IRS in 2017, according to their websites, and has been operating only very recently under a 501(c)(2) status, which amounts to little more than a funding non-profit and makes CERF unable to raise or use funds for its own use.
All these details, plus the neglect of the horses she received from CERF, makes Meredith even more concerned about how Ard is able to afford the feed to care for those remaining on the property. She also points out that since there doesn’t seem to be any active investigation into the status of the foundation, there’s not a lot stopping Ard from attempting to sell the property at a huge loss and simply walking away.
“The district attorney should be investigating,” Meredith said. “You’d think (Ard) would be unable to sell it, but who’s to stop her? Who could stop her from selling it for much less than it’s worth, packing her bags and disappearing? And what about people who have left charitable donations in their wills, or those who have been donating funds regularly every year who don’t know about what’s going on there or the status of the foundation? What about that money? Is there any accountability for that?
“There’s also the issue of property taxes. I’m fairly sure nobody has paid any property taxes there for years and I don’t know how she’d afford them anyway.”
Meredith isn’t sure how to get the authorities to take the CERF situation seriously. She does hope that updating the public on the situation will result in some public pressure from taxpayers and concerned citizens.
“(Ard) basically demolished the foundation,” Meredith said. “When all of this started I offered my help quietly and (Ard) declined, she was and is in total denial of the situation. Someone has to stop her, who’s to say that without the authorities stopping her she won’t take more horses in and also donations, have those horses die and move on?
“The thing is that people like her and rescues like hers do more harm than good, they give bad names to the good organizations who do everything right. Maybe some public pressure will help get the authorities involved and we can get to the rest of the horses and stop her from continuing.”
Several messages left for Ard seeking comment were not returned.
One of the CERF horses who Meredith doubts made it through the summer is the one who still keeps her awake at night and reminds her to continue to fight for the ones still on the property. The unknown, unnamed horse was in the worst condition she’d ever seen and when she asked Ard about it, all she got in return were excuses.
“On my first visit with (Ard) at CERF (in the spring) l saw a chestnut horse in the barn and it was skin and bones,” Meredith remembered. “When l asked her why it was so skinny she said it had medical problems and needed special food. That night l couldn’t sleep thinking about the poor horse, who was actually being starved to death.
“A week later l returned to CERF and that chestnut horse was surprisingly still alive. When l spoke to animal control about the chestnut horse in the barn on several occasions they said they never saw it. By its condition l suppose it died a slow and painful death. l think about that poor chestnut horse all the time.
“Both times l was there at normal feed time and l did not see any hay or grain for the dozens of horses that were in her care. Even though l offered her help she replied that financially the foundation was in good shape when it couldn’t have been possible. You can’t help when someone is in total denial.”
For those interested in assisting Meredith in rehabbing and maintaining the health of the CERF horses at United Pegasus Foundation, go to firstname.lastname@example.org
For those interested in requesting more information from local authorities, contact:
Animal control: (951) 487-6565
Riverside County Sheriff: (951) 791-3400
Riverside County district attorney: http://rivcoda.org/opencms/daoffice/contactus.html
Editor’s Note: Margaret Ransom has been reporting on neglected horses for US Racing for several years. Here are links to some of her previous stories:
In 2008, just under two months before the great race mare Zenyatta won the first of her two Breeders’ Cup races in that year’s Distaff at Santa Anita, her half-brother by Giant’s Causeway was making headlines of his own at the annual Keeneland September Yearling Sale in Lexington, Kentucky.
Fast forward to just a few nights ago at a tiny livestock auction located in a small, yet historic “blink and you’ll miss it” Georgia town called Eastanollee. Souper Spectacular passed through a sales ring once again, but instead of any fanfare, he was almost an afterthought in his grossly underweight body and depressed state, his recent past shrouded in mystery.
At this Georgia auction, instead of being paraded about as an example of thoroughbred breeding’s excellence, he quickly became an example of the industry’s darker side and also of a horse that, despite having everything going for him from birth, never really had much luck — but finally had it come back around in his favor. Continue reading.
Six months ago, the racing world witnessed what they thought was a fairy tale. A young female trainer saddled a horse owned by a multi-millionaire to win a race on the greatest stage in the game, shining a bright light on her abilities as a trainer, while hopefully securing herself a long career in the game she said she’d dedicated her life to.
But before the ink in the record books was even dry, the trainer had been dismissed from her duties, personal insults and accusations of animal cruelty were flying about and people once united in admiration both in and out of the industry found themselves separating on one side or another, furiously arguing about who was right, who was slighted and what would come next. Continue reading.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.