Reward offered in poisoning of show horses
By Jim Okerblom and Debbi Baker
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS[GP] << [GP] San Diego daily paper
Originally published 1:17 p.m. July 31, 2009, updated 6:25 p.m., July 31, 2009
RANCHO SANTA FE — A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for putting a toxic mix with oleander leaves in the barn stalls of 23 show horses at a Rancho Santa Fe ranch.
When workers began feeding the horses Thursday morning, they discovered that piles of the leaves mixed with sliced apples and carrots had been placed on shelves inside all the barred stall doors.
“When we opened the doors at 6 a.m., I knew exactly what it was,” said Theo Robinson, the ranch's assistant trainer.
Bill Tomin has owned the privately run 10-acre boarding and training facility with his wife, Debbie, for 30 years. They are offering the reward.
“Someone broke in and tried to kill all our horses,” said Debbie Tomin. “They fed them one of the most toxic things a horse can get.”
Oleander causes cardiac arrest if a horse eats enough and is not treated promptly, Bill Tomin said.
“Who would want to do something like this? This was totally planned and is totally sick,” his wife said.
One of the horses was already down and sick when workers discovered the leaves. That horse and two others were rushed to San Luis Rey Equine Hospital n Bonsall, where they received intravenous treatments. They are expected to recover, he said.
The facility has about 30 American Saddlebred show horses worth about $2 million. Four are owned by the ranch; the rest are boarded for clients.
Every horse in the barn, plus two pregnant mares and a third horse in an outside corral, had been given the mixture, Bill Tomin said, but it was unsure if they all ate it or how much.
“We're still finding it,” he said yesterday afternoon.
The horses were given mineral oil and charcoal to absorb the toxins. They must be watched for 72 hours and then tested to see if they suffered heart damage, he said.
Horses will not normally eat oleander due to its bitter taste.
Five of the horses are world champions, Bill Tomin said. Two are scheduled to compete in the World's Championship Horse Show in Louisville, Ky., in about three weeks.
Although competition can be fierce, Tomin said that he does not believe anyone in the tightknit world of show horses would stoop to poisoning.
“Nobody does this – this is some wack,” he said.
He said he plans to have a security camera system installed at the ranch Monday.
Debbie Tomin said she and her husband get along well with their neighbors, and they do not suspect any of their employees.
She said they think that someone climbed over a large gate between 2 and 3 a.m. Thursday and fed the horses so quietly that no one, including workers who live near the barn, was awakened. When the stall doors were opened, the toxic mixture spilled out.
“If we didn't act quickly, the horses would have died one by one,” she said.
All horse owners were notified, as well as the county Department of Animal Services.
The Sheriff's Department is investigating.
Debbi Baker: (619) 293-1710;
Jim Okerblom: (760) 737-7550;
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