An Arizona reining trainer suspended by the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) will be allowed to compete while the rider’s lawsuit against the association is pending, a judge ruled.
The NRHA Hearing Body on May 1 sentenced Arno Honstetter, of Scottsdale, to three months, fined $1,000 and placed on probation for one year for alleged horse abuse. One of his horses was allegedly found bitted up, or checked up, and left with its reins tied to the saddle, unattended, in a stall during the 2016 NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City.
According to a copy of the NRHA Hearing Body Findings And Order included in court documents, Honstetter acknowledged during a May 1 hearing he was responsible for the horse but said the action was done without his consent by employees who no longer work for him.
Honstetter filed a civil suit in October accusing the NRHA of breach of contract, and violating his rights to due process and to confront his accuser. In the lawsuit, he took issue with the way the NRHA handled the allegations against him, the hearing and his appeal to the NRHA Hearing Body’s findings.
He had appealed the suspension to the NRHA Executive Committee, which upheld the sanctions.
In an Oct. 12 court filing, Honstetter’s attorneys also claimed the allegations against the earner of $641,419 were vague and he wasn’t provided access to evidence against him until the day of the hearing before the NRHA Hearing Body.
Attorney Michael F. Beethe, in a letter to the NRHA, denied Honstetter had abused a horse. He also said bitting up is a commonly used technique in the industry and that the NRHA has presented no evidence the practice is abusive or specifically outlawed it in its regulations.
Honstetter asked the court to overturn the suspension, grant him more than $100,000 in relief and temporarily block the NRHA from enforcing the suspension while the lawsuit proceeds. The latter request was granted, allowing Honstetter to pay a $50,000 bond and compete while the case proceeds.
An NRHA spokeswoman said the association had no comment on pending litigation.
In court documents, the NRHA maintained it was within its rights to discipline Honstetter according to its rules and regulations and that, because the NRHA is not a government entity, the trainer was not entitled to confront his accuser and his rights to due process do not apply.
The NRHA also said in court documents the penalty was appropriate, the hearings were conducted fairly and the five hours Honstetter and his attorney had before the hearing to review the evidence – a two-page letter, one-page email and a 30-second video of the horse the night of the alleged abuse – were adequate time to mount a defense.
The case remained pending as of press time.