SALLISAW (KFSM) -- A horse trainer in Sequoyah County arrested on suspicion of three counts of animal cruelty after horses were found dead on his ranch is one of the best in the business, according to another horse trainer who works in the area.
Donnie Strickland said Tuesday (August 4) he was shocked by the abuse Robert Dimitt is accused of. Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart said deputies found several dead horses at the ranch after they were alerted to the situation by caretaker Charlotte Northam, who works for the owner of the three of the horses Dimitt was training.
Strickland said this case could change how horse owners train their animals.
“I really do not know what is wrong, but I hate to see the animals in the shape they are in,” Strickland said. “It is just a bad deal for everybody, and it probably breaks a lot of trust of owners toward trainers.”
An official with the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, which licenses race horse owners and trainers, said the commission's jurisdiction over what horse trainers do only extends to racing tracks in Oklahoma. When the trainers are off the tracks, it is up to local law enforcement to monitor suspected animal abuse.
Strickland said, as private business owners, trainers are independent from the commission.
"I mean, trainers train at home,” Strickland said. “Some train at training centers. Really nobody governs that. They just kind of train how they want to train.”
After finding multiple horse carcasses on Dimitt’s property as well as mutilated, living horses in his barn, some horse owners are concerned about how they can ensure their animals are safe.
Strickland said it is up to the owners to make sure their animals are being taken care of.
"The only way they would do it is to check on the horses more often or have someone check on them for them,” Strickland said.
Northam said she plans to check on every horse in her care more than before. She also suggested owners to ask trainers to take photos of the horses if the owner cannot see the animals in person on a regular basis and said an extremely high or an extremely low veterinary bill should be considered a red flag.
Dr. Edward Leslie, the owner of the three horses, said in statement that his trust has been damaged.
“This has been a life-long pursuit to have horses like this, and when you find horses like them, and something like this happens it makes you very pessimistic about the world. I do not care if they were valuable horses or not. This is very inhumane what happened. I am hoping that the authority in Oklahoma will do justice.”
Northam said one of Leslie's horses died at the ranch, another had to be put down because of its injuries and the third animal, a million-dollar race horse named Gold Digging Ashley, is fighting for its life.
Dimitt bonded out of jail Monday and has been ordered to keep out of the barn and stay away from the horses on his property during the duration of the case, according to the sheriff's office.