Another Fort Polk “rescuer” faces charges in Florida horse deaths
FORT POLK, Louisiana––Why are some wild horse rescuers in Louisiana celebrating the births of multiple foals who have nowhere to go except from sanctuary to sanctuary, if they are lucky?
Why were alleged dealers in horses for slaughter Crystal LeBron, Gary Thompson, Jacob Thompson, and Tara Sanders still in possession of horses in mid-February 2021 in Florida and Texas, respectively, after running afoul of the law for their treatment of horses in Louisiana?
The 27-year U.S. Army effort to eradicate the wild horse population at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the nearby Peason Ridge Military Training Area has again put on display the frequent illogic of wild horse rescue, along with the inconsistency of state and federal policies pertaining to animal neglect and abuse, which allow convicted offenders to hop from state to state without their histories following.
Wild horses on military land not protected by law
ANIMALS 24-7 detailed the long Fort Polk and Peason Ridge conflict, and the background to it, on August 17, 2018 in The Fort Polk horses: last stand of the U.S. cavalry.
The Fort Polk wild horses are believed to be descended from horses abandoned or lost after the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 featured the last use of cavalry against cavalry in U.S. military history.
Horses on military land, unlike those on property belonging to the Bureau of Land Management, are not protected by Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971.
Roundups of the Fort Polk horses began late in 2016, after years of litigation.
The “Spanish” horse myth
Horse defenders concerned that the Fort Polk horses might be sold to be slaughtered in Mexico or Canada contended then––as horse defenders have also argued often in response to Bureau of Land Management gathers––that the horses subject to removal should be preserved where they are, as alleged representatives of rare Spanish genetic lines.
This contention has failed time and again in court, against the weight of evidence that practically all horses in North America are of Spanish descent, directly or indirectly.
Only an improbable amount of inbreeding in isolation, unlikely in any mainland habitat, could have retained any unique wild horse ancestry over the past nearly 500 years.
Winning in court, but not for the most part in the court of public opinion, the U.S. Army sought ways to avoid at least the appearance of selling wild horses to slaughter.
Instead, as ANIMALS 24-7 detailed in both 2018 and in a 2019 follow-up, Alleged “horses for ransom” brokers busted in Louisiana, the U.S. Army disposed of horses through dodgy dealings with nonprofit organizations.
In September 2017, for instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “awarded Texas State University’s Integrated Natural & Cultural Resources Team with several task orders totaling $1.75 million,” Stephen F. Austin University announced.
Headed by Todd Ahlman, director of the university Center for Archaeological Studies, the team was hired to “conduct archaeological surveys and support the management of cultural resources at U.S. Air Force bases and training facilities in eight states.”
But $80,850 of the sum was allocated to help remove 200 horses from Fort Polk and Peason Ridge.
The Center for Archaeological Studies jobbed that part of the contract out to Jacob Thompson Cattle LLC, also known as Thompson Horse Lot & Co., located about 15 miles from the Fort Polk main gate.
Court records and news reports show that Jacob Thompson and other members of the Thompson family have almost continuously been in trouble since 2005 for alleged offenses involving livestock transactions occurring in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
Ahlman and Jacob Thompson claimed in 2018, shortly before the contract between Texas State University and Thompson concluded, that the horses Thompson removed from Fort Polk were relayed to three “nonprofit horse rescue groups.”
Meridian Falls Ranch
One of those “nonprofit horse rescue groups” was Meridian Falls Ranch, of Buffalo, Texas, incorporated in August 2015 by Shandi Ann Lebron, also known by the names Shandy LeBron and Crystal LeBron.
Fort Polk wild horse advocate and Pegasus Equine Guardian Association (PEGA) founder Amy Hanchey alleged on August 3, 2018, along with seven co-signers of an open “Letter of Concern,” that Meridian Falls Ranch was “a likely shadow organization that is in fact selling or sending the horses to kill pens and auctions.”
Lebron, like Jacob Thompson, had a multi-count history of arrests for alleged offenses involving livestock, including a reported $367 fine for a 2016 neglect conviction in Texas.
Forty-four horses rounded up at Fort Polk and Peason Ridge in May and June 2018 were reportedly transferred through Meridian Falls Ranch to the Elkhart Horse Auction in Elkhart, Texas.
Roundups by other contractors have continued, with 339 horses removed from Fort Polk and the Peason Ridge Military Training Area through September 2019, and from 400 to 600 remaining, depending on who does the estimating.
As Fort Polk and the Peason Ridge Military Training Area are both off limits to civilians, no independent counts of actual horses exist.
Lebron busted again
Both Lebron and Jacob Thompson were recently in the news again.
Reported Tom McLaughlin of the Northwest Florida Daily News on February 15, 2021, “Panhandle Animal Welfare Society officers confiscated 77 animals late last week from a Laurel Hill farm that billed itself as a rescue facility,” operating as Fyre Branch Rescue.
“A news release originally posted on Facebook said animal control officers arrived at the Fyre Branch Rescue to find dead piglets and chickens in various states of decomposition and hogs standing in three feet of their own waste ‘feeding on the dead,’ ” McLaughlin summarized.
“It described emaciated horses with open sores that had no clean water available and said horse skulls, jaw bones and cow horns were ‘scattered across the filthy property.’”
Jail & court records
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, reportedly impounded 11 horses, 14 pigs, 47 birds, three dogs and two cats from the property.
“The majority of the animals were turned over to the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport,” McLaughlin continued, “though the release said PAWS itself had taken custody of the pigs.”
The Alaqua Animal Refuge has often before helped the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society with alleged hoarding cases and disaster relief situations.
“The owner of Fyre Branch Rescue goes by different aliases but is known in Okaloosa County jail and court records as Shandi LeBron,” McLaughlin wrote.
“Removed LeBron from oversight”
Hanchey recalled to McLaughlin that “her organization (PEGA) and several others worked hard, and ultimately succeeded, in removing LeBron from a position of overseeing the well-being of animals” in connection with the Fort Polk horses, after which “Hanchey said the last she had heard, LeBron had relocated to Florida.”
Added McLaughlin, “Following the confiscation of the animals at the Laurel Hill farm, LeBron surrendered custody of all of the horses except one of them, the PAWS news release said. The horse LeBron refused to surrender was one named Joker. PAWS is caring for Joker and will be going to court to battle for custody, according to the news release.”
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society had warned LeBron in November 2020 to rectify allegedly negligent conditions. This was long before Fyre Branch Rescue deteriorated to the conditions discovered in February 2021, but the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society apparently did not follow up the warning with another site visit for more than three months.
Parenthetically, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society also has a long history of questionable handling of dangerous dogs.
Permanent injunction against Jacob Thompson
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture two weeks earlier before the Fyre Branch Rescue impoundments “announced impending permanent injunctions against Gary [Thompson, owner of Thompson Horse Lot & Co.], and Jacob Thompson [owner of Jacob Thompson Cattle LLC], as well as fines for Jacob Thompson and Tara Sanders,” Jacob Thompson’s longtime partner, reported Natalie Voss for the Paulick Report, a news web site serving the thoroughbred racing industry.
“According to charging documents,” Voss wrote, “the actions stemmed from the trio operating without livestock dealer permits, which are required in the state of Louisiana.”
Jacob Thompson was fined $23,000; Sanders was fined $13,000, Voss said. Each was fined the maximum of $1,000 per violation.
Protracted legal process
“The process from beginning to end of the state’s quest for such an injunction was about two years and cites incidents going back to 2018,” Voss recounted. “Jacob Thompson’s livestock dealer permit renewal was denied by the Board in 2018, and a petition from the department alleged that Gary Thompson never held a dealer permit.”
Sanders contended, as of August 2020, that she did not need a livestock dealer’s permit because she lived in Oklahoma. Sanders currently claims to have bought the Thompson livestock business and moved it to Texas.
Where are the Fort Polk horses now?
As to where the horses removed from Fort Polk are now, Natchitoches Times intern Keator Poleman reported on September 16, 2019 that some have been relocated to Haseya’s New Beginning Horse Ranch, Freedom Reins Ranch and Rescue, and Hanchey’s Pegasus Equine Guardian Association Freedom Reins Ranch and Rescue in Louisiana.
Others have been relayed to Wild Horse Rescue in Ohio, Baby Girl Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch in Florida, and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota.
Exactly how many Fort Polk horses altogether have been saved from slaughter is unclear.
What is clear is that places must be found for hundreds more, if U.S. Army horse sales to slaughter are to be avoided altogether––and that is not even considering how many more foals will be born, if a strict contraceptive or sterilization policy is not put into effect.