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A horse is a horse

In 2006, a horse named Scuppy bit a young boy at Glendale Farms in Milford. Last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court was asked to determine — not whether Scuppy is a mean horse, and not whether he was provoked, or just feeling his oats — but whether Scuppy is “a member of a species” that is “naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious to human beings.”

That’s a tall order, even in the abstract. But an appellate court has already ruled that Scuppy is indeed a member of a “vicious” species — apparently making Connecticut the only state in the Union that officially holds this weird view. And the consequences of this case won’t be abstract at all. Since the “vicious” ruling stems from case law dating back to 1914, we can expect that whatever decision comes out of this case (Anthony Vendrella et al v. Astriab Family Limited Partnership et al) will also have legs.

Unless the Supremes reverse the 2012 appeals court ruling, it seems likely that horse-related businesses in this state will be sent to the glue factory. So much for the Connecticut equine industry, which is valued at more than $200 million a year, and so much for people with one or two horses for their own use, whether they keep them at home or board them at a stable, because no one will be able to get liability insurance.

If horses are “naturally” vicious, it’s only logical to ask why we don’t have a court ruling about cats. After all, one minute they’re purring in your lap and the next minute they’re scratching your face. Will homeowners’ insurance go sky-high the next time little Fluffy draws a drop of blood and somebody sues Aunt Myrtle? And what does the State of Connecticut think about our own species, which is so notoriously prone to violence, both organized (war) and unorganized (crime)?

Both the Connecticut Farm Bureau and the Connecticut Horse Council have filed friend-of-the-court briefs saying that viciousness generally is judged individually according to age, breed and gender, not as a species. And the owners of the farm say that in 28 years, none of their horses, including Scuppy, had ever before attacked anyone.

Another issue that presents itself here is the question of parental responsibility. According to the Connecticut Post, signs on the fence behind which Scuppy was being kept read: “Do not feed or pet the horses.” Did the owners take all reasonable precautions to protect the public? Did the parents take all reasonable precautions to protect their child?

As with so many other things in life, the less knowledge one has, the more caution one should exercise — whether in approaching powerful animals or in writing court decisions. To say that horses are naturally “vicious” is ridiculous. As all horse people know, each animal has its own temperament.

For now, we can only hope this court will show some horse sense. There’s a lot at stake.



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