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Copyright 2010 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;


Second Trial for Heydons ends in a 

Second Guilty Verdict

By Dorinda Troutmanm, RMR Staff Writer


April 2010 Issue


[Editor’s note: We did not have room this month to run the full article. If you would like to read the details of the trial, including key witness testimonies, please visit, and click on the link to the Heydon Animal Abuse articles page.]

Or, you can click here to read the detailed article


     After a 5-day court battle, the two-man, four-woman jury in Montana Judicial District Court returned a verdict in just three hours. The five-day appeal trial was held February 22-26, 2010, in Montana Judicial District Court in Hamilton , Montana , Judge Jeffrey Langston presiding.

     Curtis Heydon, 39, was convicted of ten out of eleven counts of animal abuse. His father, Craig Heydon, 72, was convicted of nine out of ten counts of animal abuse. Two charges related to the youngest horse were decided as not-guilty.

     The verdict was almost the same as the January 30, 2009, verdict of guilty on all 21 counts in Ravalli County Justice Court .

     The Heydons, who live in Georgia , were charged with animal cruelty after being on a back country camping trip with four horses during the summer of 2008 in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho .


     Prosecutor John Bell, of the Ravalli County Attorney’s office, called 18 witnesses, including veterinarians, livestock inspectors, Wilderness rangers, sheriff’s deputies and the three people who rescued one of the Heydons’ horses.

     Bell focused much of this trial on what back country riders should know about horses, packing and equipment, what food they should provide horses, how they could learn that information, and what measures should be taken if horses develop problems.

     Bell also provided expert testimony on the condition of the horses when they were confiscated, and what simple measures were needed to bring them back to normal health.


     Defense attorney Mat Stevenson based much of his defense on attempting to prove pre-existing health conditions of the horses and the fact that one of the horses was in better condition than the other three. He explained that by the time the Heydons recognized the horses’ health problems, they were in the Wilderness area, without cell phone reception or a vehicle.

     Stevenson said that the state could not prove the Heydons did not do everything within reason to care for the horses.

     Stevenson called five witnesses, including two back country outfitters that testified as expert witnesses, the Heydons, and the veterinarian who treated Able, the abandoned horse, on the day he was rescued.


Prosecution Witnesses

     Witnesses Dawn Merrill and Mike Svoboda related the discovery and rescue of Able, the horse which had been abandoned on the Big Creek Trail.


     Cheryl Flanagan who runs a large horse rescue organization in Georgia , had not allowed the Heydons to take four of her horses on a trip to Montana in May 2008.


     Wilderness Rangers Matthew Ward and Bill Goslin both saw the horses at different times in the back country and logged reports to their supervisors about the poor condition of the horses.

     Goslin observed that the Heydons did not pack their horses correctly, gave them a demonstration on how to pack, discussed adequate feed for the horses, and noted the sore on the palomino’s withers was “about three inches wide and in a healing process.”


     Ravalli County Deputy Sheriffs Travis McEldery and John Moles (considered a horse expert by the department) confronted the Heydons at a Stevensville, MT, mini-storage facility where the horses were corralled. People in the courtroom heard the recorded conversation between the deputies and the Heydons.

     The Heydons declared that the horses had gotten adequate feed, that the horses were “stubborn” when they fell down on the trail, and denied that the horses’ conditions were different than when they purchased them.

     Moles testified that when he saw the three horses that night in Stevensville, “None of the horses wanted to take a step. The palomino was what I call starved down. They had open sores and pretty good-sized cuts, with feet too sore to walk. I’ve seen some horses in pretty tough shape but I’ve not seen any as bad as these.


     Dr. Shawn Gleason, who treated the horses for sores, abrasions, abscessed feet, and starvation after they had been confiscated, testified that the horses “did fine, recovering with simple rest, food and water.”

     Expert witness Dr. Robert Brophy DVM stated that the lab reports of Able which he saw showed that “the animal was literally using its own muscle for food.”


Defense Witnesses

     Back country outfitter Rick Hussey described a good horse for his business as “a little overweight, has a one to two sized shoe, a short back, good bone, and is calm and slow.”

     Prosecutor John Bell asked Hussey that if the stock was in as poor condition as the US Forest Rangers had emailed, and still taken into the Wilderness, was that more than inexperience?

     Hussey answered, “Yes, that was inexperience and stupidity. They’re just stupid. They’re dummer’n hell.”


     Curtis Heydon gave a long testimony about how he and his father had planned the trip, and gave details about where they traveled in the mountains and how they cared for the horses.

     John Bell asked Curtis a series of questions, to which Curtis answered “No.” Had they thought of taking the horses to the vet before going into the Wilderness? Had they thought of resting and feeding them for a couple of weeks? Had they contacted a farrier? “You said that Able went down 13 to 15 times on the trip. Did you think that was bad?”

     And finally, Bell asked, “Do you really think those people were wrong to rescue Able?”

     Curtis said “I do.”


     Craig Heydon testified about how they had come to acquire the horses; that they couldn’t afford an outfitter’s services; that he had received packing advice from a man in Georgia that was wrong; that when a horse went down on them five times, it was clumsy.

     Heydon ended his testimony by stating that, “When we left Colt Creek (on August 3), there was nothing wrong with those horses. Nothing wrong with their eyes. Nothing wrong that we could see.”


     Dr. Dick Richardson DVM examined Able when the horse was rescued and brought to Richardson ’s clinic.

     Richardson gave an account of what conditions could have caused the horses to lose weight, have huge sores and have sore feet that developed into laminitis, including pre-existing conditions, altitude and parasites.


     In rebuttal, Dr. Gleason refuted Dr. Richardson’s testimony, and John Moles reiterated his encounter with the Heydons and their horses.


Closing Statements

     John Bell asked the jury to do one thing: “Look at the 30 photos of the horses. They are every bit as revealing as the testimony, but they are not contradicting. Also, look at Dr. Gleason’s treatment of the horses, Dr. Cross’s medical report, even Dr. Richardson’s report, and the Forest Service emails.”

     Bell went over the timeline of the Heydons’ trip. “Why did the Heydons choose to go back into the back country with these horses without getting them shod, rested, fed and vet care?”


     Mat Stevenson showed photos again of the horses at Elk Summit grazing in green grass. “The horses were a little thin, certainly, but you can’t see these overwhelming health problems. Should the Heydons have been concerned? This (case) is about Dawn Merrill saying, in response to Officer McElroy’s question of what she wants him to do, and she says to ‘make this man go away.’”

     Stevenson instructed the jury, “You must find that moment in time when they grossly deviated from standard care.”



     Judge Jeffrey Langton pronounced sentencing on March 3, 2010.

     On each count, Judge Langton gave each of the defendants 180 days of jail time, with 160 days suspended; which left each to serve 180 days jail time (20 days x 9 counts), beginning immediately. He said that he would not entertain any motion to suspend the sentence during an appeal.

     The Judge then said that the horses would be forfeited, and that all costs, amounting to more than $29,000, should be paid within five months or the balance of jail time would be served.


Disposition of the Horses

     On March 17, 2010, the Ravalli County Commissioners gave the horses to the Willing Servants rescue group. However, this sparked a controversy in the community. Many people felt the horses should have been placed in good homes through the Bitter Root Humane Association, which had cared for the horses after they were confiscated in 2008.

     As RMR was going to press, the county commissioners had agreed to re-hear the case on March 24, 2010. Members of the public commented that the horses should be adopted out to good homes, and not used for fund-raising efforts.

Please check RMR’s website for the full article on the trial, as well as updates on legal status of the horses.


To read the longer detailed version of this article, please click here. 

Copyright 2010 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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