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Rescued Horses Update 
Animal Abuse Case Pending

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer


October 2008 Issue

Editor’s Note: No other article we have ever published has brought as much reader feedback as “Left for Dead,” written by our staff writer, Dorinda Troutman, for our September 2008 issue. It is the story of Able, a bay gelding, as well as three other geldings, who were ill-treated by their owners on an extended pack trip during June and July 2008 in the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana .

     You may read the entire story, with photos, at

The Charges

     The horses’ owners, Curtis Heydon, 37, of Woodstock , GA , and his father Craig Heydon, 71, of Roswell , GA , have been charged with four counts of animal cruelty (misdemeanors) and were released on $10,000 bond each.

     The Heydons’ four emaciated and sore-footed horses, with saddle and tack sores that in some cases went bone-deep, were confiscated by the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office and placed in the care of a local veterinarian and the Bitter Root Humane Association. They will remain at the shelter until either a plea agreement is reached or a trial forces a decision about their future ownership and care.

     When the Heydons appeared in court on the charges, the judge asked if they would pay for the veterinary costs and care of the horses. The Heydons refused.

Able was found by his rescuers after he had collapsed on a mountain trail the first week of August. Dawn Merrill photo.

Able on September 11 at the Bitter Root Animal Shelter. Unlimited hay and 12 pounds of grain a day have helped him put on a lot of the weight he had lost. The deep sores on his whithers, hips, back and chest are healing, thanks to dedicated volunteers and shelter workers. R. Landry photo.


Recap of the Horses’ Plight

     The story first came to light August 1, 2008, when two horsewomen, Dawn Merrill of Missoula, MT, and “Q” DeHart of Stevensville, MT, went trail riding up Big Creek Trail west of Victor, MT.

     They had ridden about two miles when they encountered Curtis Heydon who was riding toward the trailhead. He told them he was riding out of the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness, and that his father and two other horses were waiting at an Idaho trailhead for him to pick them up.


When first brought to the shelter, Diamond had saddles sores that were bone-deep (photo on left). By September 11 the largest sore had healed far faster than was predicted by the veterinarian, about 50 percent (photo on right), due to dedicated doctoring by caring people. Photo on right by R. Landry; photo on left by Dawn Merrill.


     When he learned how far the women were planning to ride that day, he told them that he had left a “lazy” horse back up the trail that had refused to go on “for no apparent reason.”

     The women rode to a point about six miles from the trailhead where they discovered a horribly thin, middle-aged bay gelding lying on the ground, tied to a log, and with his saddle still cinched on.

     The shocked women gave him bottles of water from the nearby creek, untied him, and took off his saddle, which revealed deep wounds beneath it. They covered him with a wet blanket to help with the biting flies and heat. The horse was unable to rise.




Volunteer farrier Frank McKinney nails a special veterinarian-prescribed “hospital shoe” onto Able’s horribly worn hoof.  The shoe holds medication and dressings onto the badly abscessed foot with a plastic plate (inset) that is screwed onto it. R. Landry photo.


     A day and a half later, the horse was rescued by Merril and her friend Mike Svaboda, who slowly coaxed him to the trailhead, loaded him into a trailer and took him to a veterinarian.

     In the meantime, according to US Forest Service District Ranger Bill Goslin, Curtis Heydon drove his truck and trailer to Idaho , picked up his father and the other two horses at a trailhead, and returned to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana . The Heydons were informed by Ranger Goslin that the downed horse had been brought out and taken to a Missoula vet clinic.

     Goslin had first encountered the Heydons in June when they were camped at the Big Creek trailhead waiting for the winter snow to melt off the trail. Goslin informed them that they would not find enough grass for their horses to eat in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. He also advised them to redo their makeshift packing method of long bags slung over wood supports on riding saddles so that the weight of the gear would be easier on the animals.


Current Condition of the Horses

     The four geldings are: Magic, a bay aged about eight years old; Casino, a sorrel in his late teens; Diamond, a palomino in his late teens, named by shelter employees for his “Diamond Running M” brand; and Able, the horse who had collapsed on the trail and was named by his rescuers, Merrill and DeHart, for his willing attitude.

     As of RMR’s press date, September 17, the horses are being held at the Bitter Root Humane Association Animal Shelter. Able was hospitalized with a local veterinarian for several weeks following his rescue. On September 8, he was strong enough to rejoin his companions.

     Jessica Hoyt, a shelter employee who has cared for the horses, explained their care. Initially, all the horses were wormed and started on a special diet so they would regain weight. They each get twelve pounds of grain per day, plus all the hay they can eat.




The hay is always greener.... In early September, Diamond and Able pull hay through the fence at the shelter, even though they have their own round bale available at all times. Dawn Merrill photo.


     Both Able and Diamond are suffering from ulcerated eyes caused by biting insects. Although they are being treated with eye ointment, it is still possible they could lose the sight in the affected eyes.

     Shelter Manager, Vicki Dawson, says that a specialist in equine opthomology from Colorado State University has agreed to visit and treat the horses for a fee that needs to be raised by the Animal Shelter.

     All the horses suffered from saddle sores. These are being treated and are slowly healing. Diamond is finally losing the winter coat he carried all summer due to malnutrition and is growing in another coat. Able had his teeth floated. All the horses are more alert and are very friendly to visitors.

     Able suffered the worst ordeal, with the soles of his feet being almost completely worn off. On September 11, he was shod by Frank McKinney of Missoula , MT who donated his services. McKinney applied easily-removable “hospital plates” to Able’s abscessed front hooves. These allow medication and dressings to be changed as needed. Able still spends a lot of time lying down to ease the pain in his feet.

     Quality Supply Stores of Hamilton and Missoula , Montana , have donated a 12’ x 20’ run-in shed, valued at $3,500, for the horses. Dawn Merrill says, “I am totally blown away by the generosity of this store!” She is arranging to use her truck and trailer to deliver it to the Animal Shelter, and is organizing a work party of volunteers to build it. If you are interested in lending a hand, contact the Animal Shelter at 406-363-5311.

     Trapper Creek Job Corps, located near Darby , MT , has offered to volunteer the services of their students to build a second shelter for the horses if materials are provided.





Casino and Diamond pose with a visitor in early September.  All of the horses are showing their sweet and friendly temperaments now that they are feeling better. Photo by Dawn Merrill.


The Case Against the Heydons

     A pre-trial omnibus hearing is set for:

October 9, 2008. 3:30 p.m.

County Justic Court

Judge Jim Bailey

205 Bedford St. , Hamilton , MT

     The Heydons need not appear. Probably either a plea agreement will be accepted or a trail date will be set at that time.

     Craig Heydon refused to comment about the horses from his home in Georgia . Mathew Stevenson, a criminal defense attorney in Missoula , Montana , is representing the father and son.

     When questioned why the Heydons had refused to pay for care of the horses, after the judge had asked if they wished to do so, Stevenson replied, “They wanted to take the horses with them and find the appropriate people to care for them. One or two of the horses were fine. Anyone will get a little on the thin side after spending two months in the Wilderness. I’m sure Lewis and Clark ’s animals didn’t look very good.

     “It is not that anyone set out to abuse animals. My understanding is that they did their best to feed and care for these animals as best they could in the situation they were in.

     “They got stranded at some point with a lack of supplies and with the horses’ diminished ability to pack, so Curtis left his father and came out with two horses, planning to return for his father and help him out.

     “Curtis had every intention of going back and reviving the horse (that had collapsed on the trail) and bringing it out. Everyone was traumatized. They had every intention of bringing the horses back to health.”


Advocacy for the Horses

     Montana Animal Cruelty Laws go back to a time when horses were used as work animals, and severe abuse or neglect was treated lightly. The laws currently state that, in the case of horses, a crime is charged as a misdemeanor if there are less than ten animals involved and the cruelty is not “with the purpose of terrifying, torturing, or mutilating the animal.”

     Today, few authorities are willing to spend the time, effort and the public’s money to prosecute a misdemeanor cruelty case. Many animal cruelty cases never go to trial, but are pleaded out with light sentences.

     Dawn Merrill has been motivated by the horses’ plight to begin the task of getting changes made to the Montana Animal Cruelty Law, which has very light punishment for the crime.

     Merrill would like to see punishment include mandatory restitution of the costs of care, relinquishment of all animals and larger fines. She is pulling together a group of interested people and experts to help. Their goal is to update the law in a bill, find a sponsor in the upcoming legislature, and then take the bill before the Ag Committee to seek recommendation.

     For more information, email Kathy Leudtke at


What You Can Do to Help

     To put pressure on the authorities to prosecute the Heydons to the fullest extent, write to:

Prosecutor John Bell

Ravalli County Attorney’s Office

205 Bedford Street , Ste C

Hamilton , MT 59840



     To help the horses with money for veterinary bills or food, or to donate hay, contact the Bitter Root Humane Association at 406-363-5311, 262 Fairgrounds Road , Hamilton , MT 59840 . Visit

     On September 16, ten horses (and 17 goats) were seized by the sheriff in a neglect case and are now also being cared for by the shelter.  


Click here for a link to archived articles about the Heydon Abuse Case published in Rocky Mountain Rider Magazine.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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