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Hoskins’ defense expert challenges measure used to gauge horse health

An equine science expert who testified on behalf of Beth Lynne Hoskins in her animal cruelty trial said under cross-examination Thursday that a scoring system for a horse’s body condition should not be the sole factor in determining malnourishment and seizing horses.

Under hours of cross-examination, William E. Day repeatedly said he did not feel the horses taken from Hoskins’ Aurora farm in March 2010 appeared as if they had suffered or were in pain, based on photographs and records he reviewed.

Despite challenges from the prosecution about some of the horses’ hoof conditions and several observations of manure encrusted on their bodies, Day held firm in stating that he did not feel the horses suffered.

However, the assistant professor of equine science at Morrisville State College near Syracuse acknowledged that waste management at Hoskins’ farm was “not up to industry standards.”

“It was a management issue,” Day said of the waste buildup in stalls. “I don’t think it was normal, or up to industry standard.”

In the free-roam barn, manure depth ranged from 12 inches to 26 inches, prosecutor Michael Drmacich said.

Debate about how the body condition scoring system – which was applied to the horses seized by the SPCA three years ago – should be used to assess a horse’s health dominated much of the trial testimony this week.

The scoring system, called the Henneke system, is a numerical scale used to evaluate the amount of fat on a horse’s body through a visual appraisal.

Day insisted that there are many reasons that horses might have a low score in the system that would not necessarily indicate neglect or malnourishment, such as age.

“With an aged horse unable to maintain a body condition score of 2, then you should decide to either put that horse down or reassess your management and try to get that weight back up,” he said.

He also stressed that there is variation as to what merits giving a horse with a 2 or a 3, or even a 4 rating.

“What some evaluators might call a 3, I might call a 2,” he said. “Individual evaluators must use their own experience in evaluating horses to avoid bias. There can be drifts in judgment away from their original training as to what constitutes precise body condition scoring. We’re seeing more drift and inconsistency.”

Hoskins faces misdemeanor animal cruelty charges in the nonjury trial in Aurora Town Court. Authorities including the SPCA raided her farm March 18, 2010 and seized 73 Morgan horses.

The SPCA continues caring for 30 of Hoskins’ horses at four different locations, while Hoskins has 39 horses at her Emery Road farm.

Day said the agency seemed motivated to “observe everything that was deficient, and based on everything I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem likely that these horses suffered.”

The trial is not expected to resume until the week of April 29, when another defense witness is expected to testify.