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Hoskins' horses had bad hooves Expert testifies that some were lame

The farrier who treated all 73 horses that were seized from Beth Lynne Hoskins' farm testified Thursday that they suffered from a bacterial condition on their hooves, hoof distortion, overgrown hooves and, in some instances, abscesses.

Joshua Burkhardt, who examined and treated the horses for the SPCA Serving Erie County after the agency raided Hoskins' Morgan horse farm on March 18, 2010, gave reports of a handful of horses' hooves and toe conditions that he said hurt the horses.

Burkhardt was the third witness to testify in the nonjury criminal trial of Hoskins, who faces 74 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, including the 2009 Thanksgiving Day death of "Misty." A veterinarian previously testified she had no choice but to euthanize the horse because she was so weak, unable to stand and emaciated.

Defense lawyer Thomas J. Eoannou will have his chance to cross-examine Burkhardt when the trial resumes next week in Aurora Town Court before Justice Douglas W. Marky.

Burkhardt's testimony dominated Thursday's proceedings as he was questioned by prosecutor Matt Albert for more than two hours.

In one case involving "Raoul," the horse's hoof condition was so severe that Burkhardt said he had to be very careful.

"I wanted to see him take a few steps. He was lame. He couldn't walk comfortably," Burkhardt said, noting he had bacteria buildup in all four feet. "He had extreme hoof distortions. When he stepped, his one foot rotated over -- He was a mess. His one foot grew out to the side."

Also Thursday, the court heard testimony from Sheila Foss, the SPCA's educational farm manager, who was questioned by prosecutor Michael Drmacich and told of the scoring system she and another examiner used in assessing the body condition of each horse at the time of the raid on Hoskins' farm. Some fell below what she considered a healthy weight, while some were within normal range.

"I'm sure every herd is different in terms of what is acceptable," Eoannou said. He insisted the scoring system, which involves visual and physical assessment by touch of the horse, is not scientific. The testing system had become the standard test for body condition of horses, but since then, the doctor who developed it said it should not be used as a basis to seize animals, Eoannou said.

Eoannou asked Foss if she knew that, and she said she did not. Under cross-examination, she also acknowledged she did not know when the horses were last fed or watered before she examined them -- nor had she ever worked at a breeding farm.

In the case of the farrier's examination of all the horses, their heels exceeded 3 inches in length, when the desired length should be about 1 inch.

"Horses' [hooves] have to be trimmed. If you don't trim them, they will be in pain," he said.

Burkhardt testified that it took more than a month for him to work through the entire herd, treating some of the horses more than once because their hooves required so much work. Most of the horses initially were housed at the Niagara County Fairgrounds and a few at the SPCA's headquarters in Tonawanda.

Burkhardt said it also took so long to treat them because they were not used to being handled by people. Some, he said, had to be tranquilized before he could work on them.

"I had to spend a lot of time to introduce myself, calm them down, pet them and build a trust with them," Burkhardt said. "I was kicked, bit, stomped on. People bandaged me up daily. It was a sacrifice."

When Albert asked him if he ever wished he hadn't gotten involved with the case, Burkhardt replied, "I questioned what I was doing, sometimes, I won't lie."

email: krobinson@buffnews.com