Disturbing images of horse abuse shown as Ryan's trial continues Experts offer testimony on the horses' condition and survivor's recovery: Son's girlfriend says Jeanne Ryan knew the horses were being starved
Jeanne Ryan arrives at the courthouse in Goshen on Friday, day three of the bench trial (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)
By Frances Ruth Harris GOSHEN — Pictures flashed on the screen — gaunt rib cages, mangled hooves, discolored teeth. More evidence of abuse and neglect came to light in the animal cruelty case against Goshen farm owner Jeanne Ryan, whose bench trial continued amid a stream of disturbing images and witness testimony. She is facing felony charges in starving 10 horses to death. Orange County Assistant District Attorney Chris Borek submitted additional discovery materials on Friday, including new photos of barn. The first witness on day three, Friday, May 11, was Lorie Brinkworth of Pony Tails Rescue, a not-for-profit in Honesdale, Pa. She is a 25-year horse trainer and racetrack assistant veterinarian. Brinkworth said she received Seamus — the surviving horse found in the locked barn with others dead of starvation — from Equine Rescue Resource on July 31, 2017. "His backbone was sticking up with protruding hip bones and rib cage clearly visible," Brinkworth said, pointing to images on the screen. Seamus' teeth were extremely dark and discolored, she said. His molars had sharp edges that did not allow him to eat. Horses grind their teeth to eat, Brinkworth explained. She said the sharp edges were cutting into his cheeks. Brinkworth said the horse's breath smelled of manure — and for three weeks, he actually continued to eat his own manure. Photos showed Seamus' front hooves, long and turned up. Dr. Sheila Chassen of Parkendale Veterinary Hospital prescribed a sedative so that farrier Kathleen Scally could trim his hooves, which were clogged with bacteria. Walking was painful, at best, Brinkworth said. He was forced him to walk on the back of his hooves, and often, he would just sit down and not move. Presiding Judge Robert Freehill asked about Seamus' recovery. To get Seamus back in shape, his caregivers followed the University of California at Davis' re-feeding program. Brinkworth said feeding too much too fast can kill a starving horse. Brinkworth said Seamus was very lethargic to begin with. As his strength returned and his hooves healed, he was walking and then running. Seamus also went through a de-worming program. A picture taken on Oct. 20, 2017 — a little less than three months after his arrival at Pony Tails Rescue — showed him at normal weight and fully rehabilitated. Ryan's lawyer, Michael Sussman, told Brinkworth that Seamus had a bruised hoof "under your watch." Brinkworth said she noticed the bruise a few days after Seamus' hooves were trimmed. The sole was sore to the touch, she said, and if pressed, Seamus would flinch. She said it was not normal for a horse to react in this way. The second witness of the day, Kathleen Scally, an experienced farrier, said she trimmed Seamus' overgrown hooves while he was sedated. The hooves were so overgrown, she said, they were folded over on the bottom. The frog in each hoof — the soft tissue that provides traction and shock absorbency — was almost non-existent. Scally said she'd "never seen them like this before." The abnormalities attracted debris and bacteria, and put extra pressure on each hoof, she said. She said the normal interval between trims is six to eight weeks. Sussman asked about horses in the wild. Scally said wild horses spend much more time moving and running, which wears down their hooves. Domesticated animals depend on humans for their care and maintenance, she said. Girlfriend: Jeanne Ryan knewThe third witness was James McSwigin's financee, Erika Pohja. She said she was 25 years old, had passed her Graduate Record Exam, and knew McSwigin, one of Ryan's sons, for four years. Pohja said she began dating McSwigin in 2015 and that they become engaged in 2017. There were horses outside and inside the barn when she met McSwigin, she said. The horses outside were significantly heavier than the ones inside, she said. Meanwhile, the ribs and backbones began to show on the horses in the barn. When she told Ryan about the horses' weight loss, Ryan told her that horses have a temperamental digestive system, Pohja said. Pohja said she stayed at the Ryan household off and on. Otherwise, she said, she lived with her grandmother. She said he heard McSwigin tell his mother the horses were getting skinner and skinner. Ryan would reply that she would make the hay stretch and sell some of the horses. Pohja said she was present when some of the horses died. Ryan told McSwigin to drag each horse after it died into the woods with the tractor, she said. Manure continued to pile up on the barn floor, Pohja said. When hay wasn't available, Ryan sent McSwigin to Tractor Supply for B12 vitamins and grain and to Entenmman's for loaves of bread. Pohja said McSwigin would give each horse one to two loaves of bread or two scoops of beef pulp or hay. "That's it," she said. Pohja said Ryan saw the many dead horses in the barn. When the tractor broke, the decomposing carcasses remained in the barn on top of the manure. Pohja knew the names of the horses who died, including Sophia, Lily, Ragamuffin, and Payton. Sussman asked Pohja about her education. She said she was a junior when she left SS Seward in Florida. "You were often high, weren't you?" Sussman said. Pohja said she smoked marijuana with McSwigin a few times a week. Times and datesDay four, Monday, saw an adjournment to Tuesday after Borek and Sussman emerged from the judge's chambers after a 15-minute meeting. Day five, Tuesday, was taken up with determining the timeline leading up to the horses' deaths. A forensic entymologist, Dr. Jennifer Rosati, did this by examining insect species found in, near, and on the carcasses. She found that one of the horses died wearing a bridle. Sussman grilled McSwigin with detailed questions about dates and times of feeding and care. McSwigin could not remember many dates. At one point, the judge told Sussman that McSwigin was not understanding him and asked him to phrase his questions more clearly. The bench trail was scheduled to continue at 10 a.m. in Judge Freehill's courtroom on Thursday, May 16, as this paper goes to press. Related story "Attorney blames farm owner's son for neglecting horses"