Over the Fence: A Tribute to a Noble and Beloved Horse

Warmblood article in Horse Illustrated

Back in 2011, I interviewed Grand Prix dressage rider Jean Kaplan Thornton about her four-in-hand team of dazzling golden American Warmbloods. I was writing about the breed, but our conversation started with a story about her treasured Lipizzan stallion, Conversano II Aloha II, or “Lou” for short.

Conversano II Aloha II

In their 23 years together, Jean took Lou from green broke to Grand Prix. The glorious white stallion had carried her to earn her United States Dressage Federation gold medal. Together they won 25 National Grand Championships, eight National Reserve Championships, 35 Regional Championship Awards and over 100 first-place awards. “He was one of the most wonderful and generous hearts I’ve ever known.” Jean says.

It was Lou’s retirement from the Grand Prix life to a happy place in Virginia that prompted Jean to figure out her next move, which was to start the palomino team. Ever since my conversations with her, I’ve followed the progress of Jean’s horse career via Facebook.

Conversano II Aloha II

On a different subject, last Tuesday I made a mental note to re-read this horrific story. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact of the woman in picturesque Orange County, Virginia who seemed to be marketing herself as a horse retirement facility and horse rescue operation but instead used the money she raised as a charity not to take care of horses, but to breed warmbloods, all while letting dozens of horses and other animals starve in her barn. The place is, ironically, called Peaceable Farm. But I delayed understanding the story further. Too depressing.

Then today I saw a post from Jean on Facebook about Lou. Her post was a plea for help to find him. It took me a few minutes to realize that the pleasant Virginia farm that she’d retired him to — a place that had promised loads of care and attention for her horse, trail rides, carrots and endless turnout – was the same Peaceable Farm that I was dreading reading more about.
When she heard the story about the neglect case in Virginia, she was on an airplane from her home in Orlando within hours. She posted flyers around Orange County and spoke with local authorities. But the stallion had vanished. A few hours later, she reported on Facebook that Lou had likely starved to death in at Peaceable Farm.

Conversano II Aloha II

“She had pictures of lush green fields and healthy horses,” Jean told me Thursday. “When she bought Lou from me she told me all about how experienced she was. It was all a scam. I have always said that the good ones tell me how bad they are and the bad ones tell me how good they are. I wish I would have followed my rule.”

In Virginia on Wednesday, Jean – heartbroken – said she had just missed the owner of the farm.

“After I checked into a hotel and rescheduled my flight, I went back to the farm looking for her but I didn’t get an answer. When I went back Thursday morning, she tried to hide from me but I was able to talk to her through the window of her trailer and convince her that I was only there to try to help her. Finally she came out and talked to me. She told me that my stallion was at a neighboring farm but I found out from someone else that he died on October 11. She was buying a horse from another person the same day my horse died from starvation. Of the seven horses they found dead, three of them were locked in their stalls and had eaten the walls. Four more had to be euthanized immediately because they couldn’t even stand up. It was a tragic ending to a most noble horse. Rest in peace my beloved gentleman.”

Conversano II Aloha II

Conversano II Aloha II, June 17, 1989 – October 11, 2015

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  1. This is a horrible situation. The only way to insure the care of any animal is to maintain personal ownership and care. My horses will be with me until death. My family has instructions for their care if I pass first.

  2. When I buy a horse it lives with me until it passes away. If I had a horse as great as this it would have never left my property. This is what I owe them for all they give to me. If you can’t make this promise, don’t fall in love with your horse – it won’t end well. If you have to retire one, for gods sake find a place you can visit once a week. Do you think that a bond as strong as the one you build riding every day just disappears? That your friend just forgets you?

  3. I have to agree totally w/ Rose from Bloomington, IL
    When YOU Buy a Horse & Spend the Majority of His/Her Life Riding, Showing, Etc. , YOU HAVE BECOME RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM TIL THEIR DEATH!
    Do you People Adopt a Child, Dog, Cat & When YOU are Ready ; SEND THEM DOWN THE ROAD!!!!
    You Buy &/or ADOPT FOR LIFE!!!

  4. I feel heart broken for your loss. It made me check in on my handsome boy that I retired this year after 16 wonderful years of service. Not everyone understands that retirement is sometime a must, and why we would love to say “they can stay and grow old with us” it’s not always in their best interest. I have a small riding academy with a twelve stall barm that is year round full to capacity with horses in training, lesson/schooling horses, and then one very private horse for myself. We live in an area where pasture is a luxury and hay is a must. I feed forty bales of high quality hay alfalfa and orchard/Timothy mix hays daily to make up for zero grass and limited turn out for twelve horses. That is no retirement. They spend 14 hours out of their stalls each day, but not grazing the way nature intended or rolling in soft lush pastures or swimming in chest deep ponds. So the hardest desicision I have made and I make it every few years when my well deserving school horses have earned their retirement. They deserve to be loved and used and spoiled. Not to be worked, and stalled, and not to be sold and past around and around. So yes my horses leave me, they are not sold off to the highest bidders, nor are they randomly forgotten has some have tossed out there at thos poor woman who lost her beloved mount. But rather they are found what I can only hope and pray are the best foverve homes til they cross that rainbow bridge and we meet again on the otherside. “May Lou be there waiting for you as you make your way to those gates one day, I know he knew you were not at fault for his treatment”

  5. Some of the blame should fall on the owners that place their horses in these kind of places. They may have good intentions, but as always out of sight out of mind! Such a preventable suffering if their owners would just check up on them, or send someone else to do it for them. This makes me sick!

  6. Yes, I agree this was a terrible tragedy. However, the responsibility of a horses well being lies with the owner. It was Lou’s owner that sent him to this place, it was up to her to make sure he was being cared for properly. She needs to accept ownership for the outcome. It makes no difference whether it is an expensive, well breed show horse like Lou or an ordinary backyard pet, none of them deserve to die this way. People need to be held accountable in these cases. There needs to be penalties. Speak up, pay attention, if you see abuse or suspect abuse, do something, report it and don’t shut up until it is dealt with. After all isn’t that what you would want for YOUR horse?

  7. Yes, this is heartbreaking for this poor animal but his owner couldn’t shoulder the responsibility of taking care of him through his retirement after all he gave her. Instead of retiring him herself she sold him. When will horse people learn that the only safe retirement is the one you provide yourself.

  8. What an awful, awful hell. To those who blame the former owner the sale of a horse is hard. You have to place at least some faith in people or you couldn’t do it. many people do not want you to follow up & visit & will not consider such invasion of privacy. It would seem that giving someone enough notice should work for both sides. The worst part is that even if you do follow uop, if you find things less than perfect you have no back up or recourse if the buyer isn’t willing to work with you. all of this needs fixing in law. Anyone keeping animals in such conditions should immediately lose custody of all of them & not be allowed to own or care for a single animal without proving they are competent. If you are selling a horse you should have a legal right to visit that horse ( specified time interval/ number of times) to follow through & better support.

  9. This story broke my heart a million times. It will sit with me always, as a testament to how cruel people can be. Rest easy in paradise, what a beautiful creature and such an unnecessary and tragic loss…..

  10. Thank you for writing this story. Jean is my friend and Lou was the kindest and sweetest stallion I’ve ever known. Thank you for this tribute.

  11. I have one of Lou’s great grandsons. He is a wonderful, kind, living, give you everything he can, kind of horse. Though, we’ll probably never make it to Grand Prix, and certainly not side saddle, I thank his predecessors everyday for giving me this wonderful horse to have as my own. So sorry to hear that Lou is gone, but glad that I have a living piece of him for as long as he lives.

  12. why are some people so cruel I don’t understand how people can let animals suffer like that and not feel anything and lie about it. sad and tragic story hope she gets as much compassion she should the defenseless animals yet you wonder how she would treat a defenseless child

  13. I am so sorry to read this. I met Lou and have met Jean a few times over the years at various events in Volusia County (Equifest, etc). This broke my heart to read. I will never understand people who do things like this. I can only hope that woman is severely punished for these horrendous deeds. My sincere condolences.

  14. I dont understand why Jean didn’t keep Lou herself or perhaps just keep her beloved horse at a farm close to her home. Don’t horses deserve to taken care of after the medals? Horses are a lifetime commitment…not just to win medals and then to be given away. It is a shame that Lou was starved. It is horrific. Do you have any idea how hungry an animal has to be to eat wood? These animals are usually 1000 pounds. Do you get cranky when you don’t eat for several hours? How much do you weigh? Imagine being 1000 pounds hungry. Please love and keep these majestic and beautiful animals always not just because they win you medals.

  15. I don’t wish to be cruel, but how can anyone who spent 23 years with a horse who gave so much of himself to her, send him off anywhere, period? Mental images of lush, green fields notwithstanding, this magnificent animal won her ribbon after ribbon, award after award, but once he couldn’t do that anymore she got rid of him. It’s pitiful enough that someone who clearly has the resources and facilitates at her disposal didn’t see fit to reward him with a permanent place in the home and care he’d known all his life. Couldn’t she have at least kept tabs on him, visited him periodically to say hello, and monitor his conditions and well-being? I’m not moved by her story of getting on a plane within hours of hearing about the neglect. Too little, too late. She should have been hopping on a plane regularly to guarantee this horse was getting the care he deserved. It’s sickening to think of a horse helplessly starving to death, but it’s even more sickening to think of one starving to death wondering why the human he had given his heart and soul to for so many years wasn’t coming to save him.


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