Saturday, May 28, 2022

New Hanover Sheriff’s Office: No charges against Greenville Loop farm after one horse dies, five sent to hospital

Bruno, also known as "Brutus," a 22-year-old Appaloosa gelding that was rescued from a Wilmington farm in mid-July. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Horton's Rehab Ranch)
Bruno, also known as “Brutus,” a 22-year-old Appaloosa gelding that was rescued from a Wilmington farm in mid-July. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Horton’s Rehab Ranch)

Earlier this month, eight horses were rescued from a horse farm in Wilmington. After one of the horses died and five were taken to a horse rehabilitation farm in Pender County, the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office said it is not currently pressing any charges.

WILMINGTON — The New Hanover Sheriff’s Office is not currently pressing charges against the owner of a farm in Wilmington where one horse died and several others were found extremely malnourished.

On July 14, a horse was seen eating grass on the side of Greenville Loop Road, just north of Hewletts Creek. When an officer from New Hanover County Animal Control arrived and returned it to a nearby farm, another horse was found stuck in a mud-hole, severely malnourished and emaciated. 

According to Lt. Jerry Brewer, spokesman for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO), a veterinarian, and a fire crew arrived and retrieved it from the mud but it was already too late. 

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“They got him unstuck but he didn’t make it,” Brewer said Monday afternoon. “He passed due to his health conditions.” 

Brewer said 13 horses were found at the farm and the property owner, Robert Woody, was told a veterinarian would return to assess the horses’ conditions. After evaluations were performed two days later, five horses were determined to each be in a state of health that required transportation to an animal hospital, according to Brewer. 

‘A skeleton with skin draped over it’

Jewell Horton, Pender County animal shelter manager and a consultant for Penderosa Rescue and Sanctuary in Willard, said seven horses were ultimately transported to Reagan Equine, an animal hospital in Wilmington. Five were taken to her own farm, Horton’s Rehab Ranch, but under the legal custody and care of Penderosa Sanctuary. Two were adopted by a clinician at the hospital, according to Horton. [Editor’s note: Horton was acting as a consultant, not on behalf of Pender County.]

She said a 22-year-old Appaloosa gelding had improperly maintained laminitis (a painful inflammation of tissue inside the hoof), a 22-year-old mule gelding had advanced intestinal parasitism, and a 20-year-old Quarter Horse mare was emaciated.

“A skeleton with skin draped over it,” she wrote in phone message Tuesday morning. “She had sores on her body from the pressure of her bones pushing against her skin” due to a lack of fat and muscle. 

Rita, a 20-year-old Quarter Horse mare with a "body score" of 1, which means the horse shows signs of being extremely emaciated. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Horton's Rehab Ranch)
Rita, a 20-year-old Quarter Horse mare with a “body score” of 1, which means the horse shows signs of being extremely emaciated. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Horton’s Rehab Ranch)

She said the Quarter Horse, named Rita, had a “body score” of 1. According to Habitat for Horses, the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System rates a horse’s overall fat levels on a scale of 1 to 9. A score of 1 shows a horse is extremely emaciated, with the spine, tailhead, and other major bones protruding prominently. 

According to Brewer, the NHSCO is currently overseeing an open investigation into the matter, but at this time it is not pressing any charges against Woody, who he says has been cooperative with the investigation. He said he and his wife, Judy Woody, have “fallen on hard financial times” due to certain medical conditions. 

“Because he’s in a wheelchair, and then their truck broke down, he hasn’t been able to travel and get hay for the horses,” Brewer said.

He also said his daughter, Sarah Woody, had been coming over to help feed grain. 

“But she’s a full-time student and has a full-time job,” Brewer said. “So it’s not something they planned. It just got overwhelming for them … At this point, we could still charge. Sometimes you have to look at things and take in the totality of the situation, but this just kind of got out of their hands faster than they probably realized it did, versus someone meaningfully hurting an animal.”

Sarah Woody could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. According to a LinkedIn account that was recently deleted or made private, Woody was a veterinary assistant at Reagan Equine, located just north of Wilmington.

Given the condition of the horses, some might ask why NHCSO had not pressed charges. In April, various local and national media outlets covered the case of a neglected pet fish in New Hanover County. According to WECT, the pet’s owner was arrested on animal cruelty charges after he allegedly failed to provide fresh water or food for the fish after he was evicted from his home in March. 

Ultimately, Brewer said the NHCSO does not believe the case involves willful neglect of the horses.

“At this point we don’t think there was willful neglect on it. It is still an open investigation, but [Robert Woody] has been very forthcoming with information and trying to get the animals the care that they need.”

This is a developing story. Donations for the horses can be made at (click on the “donate” button on the home page). 

Mark Darrough can be reached at or (970) 413-3815

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