Are horses naturally vicious? A Connecticut court says they are

A Connecticut court defined horses as a naturally vicious species. Equine enthusiasts are asking the Connecticut Supreme Court this ruling that would make horse ownership uninsurable. 

Steve Kohls/ The Brainerd Daily Dispatch/ AP/ File
Don Hanson, left, holds the reins while his horse, Shorty, drinks with Laurie Bjerke's horse, Lorenzo, at a watering spot on the shore of Dead Horse Lake in the Pillsbury State Forest, Minnesota. A Connecticut court classified horses as "vicious" by nature.

After a horse named Scuppy bit a boy in the face, a Connecticut court came to a conclusion that threw animal lovers: Horses are a naturally vicious species.

Horse owners and farmers are mobilizing as the state Supreme Court hears an appeal in the case Tuesday. Such a classification — America's first, if it stands — would make owning horses uninsurable and jeopardize the state's sizable horse industry, farmers and horse owners say.

"You could not pair children and horses, the core equestrian business nationwide that it's all about," said Doug Dubitsky, a lawyer who represents farmers and horse businesses.

When the boy tried to pet the horse at Glendale Farms in Milford in 2006, according to court papers, the animal stuck his neck out from behind a fence and bit the child on his right cheek, "removing a large chunk of it."

In February 2012, the mid-level Appellate Court said that testimony by Timothy Astriab, whose family owns the farm, demonstrated that Scuppy belongs to "a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious."

Although he had no knowledge of Scuppy biting anyone before, Astriab testified that Scuppy was no different than other horses that would bite if a finger was put in front of him. "Significantly, Astriab acknowledged his concern that if someone made contact with Scuppy, whether to pet or feed him, they could get bit," the justices said.

If allowed to stand, Connecticut would be the first US state to consider horses as inherently dangerous, said Dubitsky.

Horse farmers and equine enthusiasts, who cite 2005 statistics saying that the horse industry contributes about $221 million a year to the state's economy in boarding, training, lessons and breeding businesses, are asking the state Supreme Court to overturn the Appellate Court's decision. The Connecticut Farm Bureau and Connecticut Horse Council filed a friend of the court brief saying that under common law viciousness generally is judged individually according to age, breed and gender, not as an entire species.

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