Millie Montana and many other cutting horses since the early 1980s, pled no contest on Friday, Oct. 11, in a Weatherford, Texas, courtroom to one count of cruelty to animals. Eight similar charges, also tied to nine horses discovered dead or dying near Weatherford on Aug. 12, 2011, were dismissed as a condition of the negotiated plea.Keith Hall, owner of 1990 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Open Champion
Hall, 79, of Litchfield Park, Ariz., received a two-year probated sentence. That means he will not serve any jail time unless he violates the terms of his probation. He was also assessed a $2,500 fine, plus court costs.
“Yes, that’s fair,” Hall said when Quarter Horse News asked if he was satisfied with the sentence he’d just received. “I wasn’t going to a trial. We’ve been trying to negotiate a deal. You never know what’s going to happen during a trial.”
Hall added he sympathizes with Linda Pharis, the 55-year-old Carnegie, Okla., woman convicted by a Parker County, Texas, jury in August on nine related cruelty to animals charges. Parker County Court At Law No. 2 Judge Ben Akers sentenced Pharis to one year in jail, straight time, on Aug. 28. She remains in custody at the Parker County Jail.
Contrary to what Pharis testified during her August trial, Hall said she had served as his ranch manager more than two years, and was responsible for caring for his horses, Hall said. He added in the past, she’d done a great job managing the horse facility for him.
“She’d always taken good care of them, and we never had a problem, until this time,” Hall said. He was in Arizona, Hall said, when he received a telephone call from Pharis in August 2011, notifying him the water well had broke and several horses were dead.
“I immediately left my work in Arizona and Idaho and went to see what the situation was,” Hall said shortly after his Oct. 11 court hearing in Weatherford. “When I got there, I talked to the sheriff’s department and they checked with the owner of the land, and I was told the water well broke.”
What he’s not sure about, Hall said, is why the horses’ water supply was not checked, apparently for several days, preceding the discovery of eight dead horses and one later euthanized. A working water well and supply was located right next door, he added.
“Every well will break down once in a while. That well just happened to break down and there wasn’t anybody there,” Hall said. “I’d always check a horse’s water two or three times a day. The well broke, the horses didn’t have water, and I was 1,500 miles away.”
During the past two years, Hall said his reputation as a horseman, and in general, has taken a beating, mainly due to allegations that are not true. A particularly painful one has been that he did not properly care for Millie Montana (Montana Doc x Cal Filly Bar x Cal Bar), the 1987 mare who won a 1990 NCHA Futurity Open Championship for him. Millie Montana was euthanized a few weeks after the other August of 2011 horse deaths. Hall was accused, but never prosecuted, on an abuse cased related to her death, too.
After winning cutting’s top Open prize as a 3-year-old, “Millie” carried Hall to several Non-Pro and Amateur victories as a 4-year-old cutter. She earned $139,353 during her career.
Millie Montana died in August 2011 at age 24 and remained in good health most of her life, Hall said. “She carried her last baby. She was getting a little old, and we had her under veterinarian’s care,” Hall said. “I treated her like the queen that she was.”
Hall presently owns three cutting broodmares and a 2-year-old gelding, now in training to potentially start his cutting career soon.