French Show Jumper Bought by USA’s Debbie Stephens Found Slaughtered on Her Florida Farm
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
A 12-year-old French show jumper brought into the United States three days ago by prominent American rider Debbie Stephens and her Olympic course designer husband Steve Stephens was found butchered on their farm in the Gulf Coast community of Palmetto, Florida on Sunday.
The body of the Selle Français gelding Phedras de Blondel that had been competed by Christian Hermon up to CSI4* level mostly in France for the past four years was found in a pen on the Stephens’ Imperial Farms Equestrian Center. The legs and much of the body had been cut off and taken.
Steve Stephens, who was a co-designer of the jumping course at the 2008 Olympic Games and was the main course designer at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida until 10 years ago, reported the slaughter of Phedras de Blondel to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department.
“Basically what we know is someone came in and gutted the horse for the meat, we think,” said Dave Bristow of the sheriff’s department.
Debbie had been driving around the farm looking for the horse and saw a broken fence. She called a female farmhand to check.
“When the girl got down there, she found the horse,” Steve said. “She called my wife and said, ‘You can’t believe this.’ She was emotionally just blown apart. She didn’t know what to think. She had never seen anything like it before.”
Palmetto is about 200 miles (320km) from Wellington and Palm Beach and 130 miles (210km) south of Ocala, another area of Florida with a large horse population. The incident raised serious concerns about security. Most horse stables are unguarded and individual stalls are usually unlocked to allow easy access in case of an emergency.
Steve, 64, said that Debbie had recently gone to Germany to buy the horse that he estimated at 1,200 lb. (about 545kg).
He told the Bradenton Herald that Phedras was furtively led from his stall between 8:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:45 a.m. Sunday, taken to a pen in the back of the 27-acre (11ha) farm that the Stephens have owned since the early 1960s, killed and expertly butchered.
Debbie holds the women’s high jump record of 7-feet, 8-inches (234cm).
The perpetrator will be charged with occupied burglary, grand theft and cruelty to animals, Dave Bristow said.
A full investigation of the crime scene was ongoing Sunday afternoon, but no suspects had been identified.
Investigators believe the perpetrator was someone wanting horse meat, knew the farm had horses and took Phedras because he was a big, heavy horse, he said.
“We don’t think they wanted this particular horse other than for its size,” he told the Herald. “We are hoping someone saw something unusual, an unusual car or truck in the area. The farm is not that far from the highway.
“We have never had a case like this that I can remember. It’s grisly. There has been a case in the Palm Beach County area involving a slaughterhouse, but nothing like that here.”
Phedras was flown into the United States Friday and, as a gelding, quickly passed through quarantine
“The horse looks like he was butchered out for slaughter after he was killed,” Steve said. “This was a murder. If I had to make a guess, it was someone who knows how to hunt, like hunt deer, and knew how to take a large animal’s life quickly. We have no enemies. We have no idea who did this.
“We want to talk about this and get it in the light so our neighbors who have animals can be aware that this happened.
“These people came to butcher this horse out. They didn’t just come with those sharp knives for nothing. They had all intentions of doing what they did. They knew what they were going to do. This was a horse farm. I don’t think he was targeted specifically. Maybe they went by size. ‘Here’s a big one. Let’s take this one. We have more animal.’
“But to go to the trouble of taking him out of his stall, leading him down a path, taking him to the far property that is sort of out of sight, and then do what they did.” Stephens added.
A security camera was set up in the stall area, but he did not know whether it captured any video of the horse being led out.