SI Vault
Edited by Martin Kane
August 14, 1972
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August 14, 1972


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Outside Toronto a mare which had won Olympic and Pan-American gold medals for the Canadian Equestrian Team was bedded down in fresh shavings for the night. The caretaker, whose wife was out of town, took the German shepherd which normally guards the stables home for company. The jumper's owner, Stockbroker Tom Gayford, by coincidence also was away from home.

Next morning Big Dec, the 11-year-old thoroughbred, was in pitiable shape. With a baseball bat or a wrapped pipe, she had been beaten across the windpipe, shoulder and a previously injured leg that had kept the mare and Gay-ford from some earlier Olympic Trials. As there were no shavings in her mane or tail, there was no question of such accidental injuries as could occur when a horse thrashes around with colic. The overnight brutality ended any Olympic hopes for Gayford, although he will go to Munich as a coach. Big Dee will survive, but her competitive future is in question and the motive for the savage attack is still a mystery.

"It certainly wasn't done by a friend of mine," said Gayford sardonically. "It must have been a demented personality. But in a way you could say it was done beautifully. It was well enough executed to put her [and therefore Gayford] out of the way for a while. Thank God they didn't kill her."

But here in the U.S. there have been recent equine atrocities that made Big Dee's Mafia-style beating all but trivial by comparison. In California's San Fernando Valley, within a three-mile radius of Northridge, eight horses and ponies have been stabbed and mutilated. Another had a rope tied from neck to legs so that he strangled himself. Then he was disemboweled. A 10th horse seems to have been poisoned.

The compiler of these macabre facts is Mrs. Paul Burmeister, whose children's two ponies were slaughtered in their corral so expertly that Mrs. Burmeister believes the murderer has either worked on the killing floor of a slaughterhouse or is a very experienced hunter who has stabbed many animals after a kill to drain them of their blood. She points out that Teddy, a 7-year-old pony, was killed by one precise stab and then slashed unnecessarily an additional 32 times.

No one has yet been apprehended in this bloodbath, but the Southern California Horsemen's Council is trying to get this kind of offense upgraded from its present misdemeanor status to felony.


Wild ducks living in the protected environment of zoos have been known to survive for 30 years, but the life-span of a wild duck living in freedom appears to be about three years, with good luck. Almost none go five or more.

So wildlife experts were astonished when a wild mallard drake that had been banded at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Ala. in January 1944 was killed by a hunter on the Savannah River in 1972.

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