JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Social media sites are abuzz with a short video many are finding disturbing. It involves a local outfitter and horseman confirmed to be Forest Stearns employing a questionable training method on a packhorse.
In the minute-long video, which has been shared by hundreds of Facebook users since it posted yesterday, Stearns can be seen securing one of the ropes that has a horse stretched out on the ground by its two hind legs at one end and its head at the other.
As Stearns walks around the horse it struggles violently. From the disturbance of the dirt underneath the horse, and the blood on the horse’s rear pasterns, the animal appears to have struggled for some time before the video was shot. Reports from eyewitnesses say the horse was tied that way for some five to six hours before it reportedly died of heart failure.
Teton County Sheriff’s Office investigators are looking into the incident as a possible animal cruelty case. Deputy Doug Raffelson, the department’s animal care and control officer, is leading the investigation. He has interviewed several witnesses and reached out to area professionals in the industry.
Dr. Theo Schuff of Fish Creek Veterinary Clinic is conducting a necropsy on the dead horse in cooperation with the investigation. The Wyoming State Board of Outfitters and Wyoming Livestock Board have been contacted as well.
Heavy-handed training technique or animal cruelty?
Different horsemen use various methods of training. On occasion, horses are “thrown” to the ground in a process involving hobbling a hind leg to the animal’s belly by rope in order to tip it over and get it on the ground. The method is sometimes used to shoe a problem horse. Old school trainers also employed the technique to establish domination over a horse to gentle it to human touch.
Photographs or video snippets often do not tell a complete story. Also, to the untrained eye, some training methods can appear unnecessarily harsh. Certainly, the horse-training world has undergone a transformation in recent decades. The use of force, fear, intimidation, and restraint are more and more considered antiquated practices with little place in today’s modern culture. Gentler horse breaking approaches are now the norm.
One local horse-training expert in particular is world-renowned for his expertise in gentling horses. Grant Golliher co-owns the Diamond Cross Ranch with his wife Jane. Golliher’s training sessions—where he gentles and eventually rides an unbroken horse—have earned him the moniker of a “horse whisperer” of sorts. Golliher also recently authored a book titled, Chasing a Dream: A Horseman’s Memoir.
Buckrail reached out to Golliher to get his opinion on the video currently garnering outrage as it makes the rounds in cyberspace. He had this to say after viewing it.
“As a horseman with over 50 years of experience, both from the old school and the new, I view this method of training as unacceptable, unnecessary and cruel. While not one to stick my nose into other people’s business, I couldn’t help but be troubled watching this video, and felt sorry for the horse,” Golliher said. “Sometimes out of frustration and even desperation, we as humans resort to inhumane practices, some of which I was guilty of myself before I learned a better way. Ignorance is usually the culprit.”
Jane Golliher was abhorred after viewing the video. “I grew up with horses and my dad trained the old way, but it was nothing like this,” she said. “This video is brutal, ignorant and unthinkable. I am not surprised that the horse died.”
Longtime local Robin Winters said she has known Stearns for quite a while, even considering him a boyfriend in 7th grade. After she saw the video on the Internet, she immediately drove over to his place and confronted him.
“I stuck a phone in his face and demanded an explanation. And I asked to see the horse,” Winters said.
Stearns reportedly told Winters the horse wasn’t there. He was taken to Pinedale to be ridden. After more urging, Stearns then claimed he shot the horse, according to Winters.
“I left and talked to a few people around there who watched the incident. They said they saw the horse lying there lifeless after six hours of torture.”
Winters went back to Stearns and told him what she learned.
“He had a hose out and was scrubbing blood off the packsaddle I assume the dead horse was wearing,” Winters said. “I told him people around there saw the horse laying there dead. ‘Fine, he said, the horse died of a fucking heart attack. Are you happy now?’”
Winters added Stearns told her he was disciplining the horse for kicking a farrier during shoeing.
Efforts to reach Stearns have so far been unsuccessful.
WARNING…some viewers may find the video disturbing to watch.