Clovis riding school owner sues Goshen feed mill over horse deaths

The owner of a Clovis horse barn and riding school where 13 horses died, allegedly from eating contaminated feed, has sued Western Milling in Goshen, which made the horse feed.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Fresno County Superior Court, seeks unspecified general and punitive damages for negligence, liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other causes.

The lawsuit alleges that the feed was contaminated with monensin, a supplement used in cattle feed to increase digestion – but deadly to horses.

In all, 51 horses at Black Fence Farm in Clovis were sickened or died last September, owner Katie Flanigan said.

The owners of several horses who boarded at the stables are also parties to the lawsuit against Western Milling, as well as a horse training and equestrian school in Temecula.

Western Milling did not return a call seeking comment.

The crisis at Black Fence Farm began in September last year when the person feeding the horses called Flanigan in a panic to report a horse was sick.

When Flanigan arrived, the horse was close to death and others were showing signs of sickness.

She said the horses that did not die are permanently affected and can’t be used for riding.

“I’m angry,” she said. “My business is down 80 percent. Instead of 10 riding lessons a day, I’m teaching two.”

Denise Taylor of Lemoore was keeping her horse, a warmblood Hanoverian imported from Germany named Knight in White Satin, at Black Fence Farm. Flanigan called to let her know the horse was in trouble.

The horse ultimately died.

“This has been every horse owner’s nightmare,” Taylor said. “Not only was he a spectacular show horse in the ring, but he was gentle enough for us to use at my ranch in Lemoore for Wounded Warrior trail rides.”

Taylor said a necropsy found monensin in her horse’s stomach contents, and the substance was also found in the bag of feed used to feed her horse.

After monensin was suspected, Western Milling issued a voluntary recall of its Western Blend horse feed, stating “it may contain monensin.”

Thursday, plaintiffs’ attorney Sean Simpson of San Diego held a news conference in front of the B.F. Sisk courthouse in Fresno to talk about the lawsuit.

He said Western Milling had problems with monensin contamination in 2009 and 2010 when the federal Food and Drug Administration “found impermissibly high levels” of the substance. He said a similar problem occurred the next year involving animal feed not supposed to have monensin as an ingredient.

Simpson said the incidents show the company didn’t try to fix the problem. The lawsuit says the company told the FDA that it had a dedicated sacking line for feed with monensin when in reality it did not have a separate line, causing the contamination.

Efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement with Western Milling were unsuccessful, Simpson said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold