Following several weeks of investigation, including analysis of the necropsy report and interviews with witnesses, the animal services department submitted its report to the San Diego County Attorneys office late last week.
“We asked for felony charges against two people, but it’s going to be up to the district attorney’s office to make that determination,” Dan DeSousa told Quarter Horse News in a Nov. 7 interview. A synopsis of the case has also been sent to the DA’s office, he said.
A San Diego County District Attorney’s office spokesman also confirmed on Nov. 7 that it has received that information. “We are reviewing the investigation for potential charges,” said Steve Walker, communications director for the San Diego County DA’s office. No time frame has been set for a determination what charges, if any, will be filed, he added.
Mark Arballo, of Arballo Reining Horses, was one of two resident trainers at River Valley Ranch near San Diego at the time of the incident preceding the horse’s death. He confirmed to Quarter Horse News in September the horse had been in his training program. Arballo and his girlfriend, Patricia Hohl, were both listed as trainers on an Arballo Reining Horses website, which has since been removed from the Internet.
Contacted again by phone on Nov. 7, Arballo said he’s still living in California, but he is not working at the same ranch. “I’m just laying low and letting things blow over,” he said. Arballo added this was the first time that he has heard about the revised status of the horse abuse investigation.
“You have more information than I have,” he said. “Nobody has ever asked me about it and no one has ever called me. I would like to know what’s going on. If they want to press charges, you’d think they’d want to talk to me. That’s all I have to say.”
In late September, Fox5, a San Diego television station, reported that witnesses saw the mare “tied up with a shank bit” and she panicked, leading to injuries resulting in her death. Asked if he contributed to the horse’s death, Arballo answered no. “I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even in the round pen to see what happened. I don’t know because I wasn’t there. I was giving a lesson, that’s all.”
Another horse death investigation took place at the same location in June, 2012. It regarded a 7-year-old horse owned by Hohl. According to official San Diego County Department of Animal Services records, an anonymous caller “witnessed horse dying after an accident where it was being lunged with its head tied and it reared over and cracked its skull.” Hohl denied the allegations and stated the horse “just collapsed and died” while she was lunging him before riding.
A major problem with the 2012 investigation, DeSousa said, was the horse had been buried at the ranch for more than a week after its death prior to its recovery. Extensive decomposition following a death can limit a necropsy’s effectiveness, he said. The written case report indicates key witnesses also wished to remain anonymous, which also might have prevented the case from being pursued further.
In this case, San Diego Animal Services Department took possession of Bella Gunna Be Gifted’s body on Sept. 21, the same day as her death. It then promptly ordered a necropsy to help determine the probable cause of her death and began searching for witnesses with knowledge of the case. This time, it also appears at least some witnesses have been more responsive.
Martha Torkington, of San Diego, purchased the 5-year-old mare in June. “Bella” is sired by the late Colonels Smoking Gun, a.k.a. “Gunner,” and out of the Hollywood Return mare Bay Brim Hat. Breeder Roxanne Koepsell, of Aubrey, Texas, owned the mare until then, American Quarter Horse Association records state.
Bella made the finals of several limited-age events for Koepsell and former trainer Barbara Williams. The mare had earned more then $8,185 overall through the end of last year, according to Equi-Stat records.