NATCHITOCHES, La. - A once thriving, horse racing business in Cenla is now dealing with what some may describe as a fallen empire, and innocent animals are the victims in this downfall. News Channel 5's Rachael Penton investigates 'The Ryder's River Ridge Rescue.'
Ryder's River Ridge Farm sits quietly along Williams Avenue in Natchitoches.
It's the farm where founder Firal Ryder built his empire of thoroughbred horses, and soon became one of the most well-respected breeders and racers in the state.
"I guess you'd say they were going to have to run against some winners," Firal's brother Paul Ryder said.
Paul Ryder, brother to the farm's founder, says that Firal lived and breathed for his farm and for his business -- even picking up the title of Breeder of the Year in 2009.
"That's the reason he was able to become one of the leading breeders, because his horses were taken care of well. His mares in that pasture with lush grass. They were fed twice a day," Paul said.
But later that year, Firal was diagnosed with Dementia, among other health problems, and soon became too ill to continue operating the farm. Paul said that during that time, Firal's son Clay picked up the reigns.
And that's where the story takes a turn.
"Disgraceful to say, what it looks like compared to what it always used to be when he was able to oversee it," Paul said.
Included in this story are the aerial photos of Ryder's once prestigious farm. The images were taken just last month by a Texas rescue group, showing not only what appears to be malnourished horses, but complete skeletons and bones of horses scattered about the grounds. These are horses that likely starved to death.
The story began unraveling in January 2012 with a tip from a concerned citizen of malnourished horses to the Natchitoches Sheriff's Department. The department investigated, but at the time officials said they found no reason to take action against Ryder.
At this point in time, the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association, a nonprofit group, stepped in and offered to take any horses Clay Ryder couldn't take care of. He accepted.
"You can tell they're malnourished. You can tell they don't have shelter, don't have proper medical care," said Patrick Richmond, president of the Louisiana Horse Rescue Association.
In addition to the 12 horses surrendered in March 2012, an additional 38 emaciated and starving horses were voluntarily surrendered by Clay Ryder last month. Their temporary home is in Forest Hill at Richmond's farm.
"Many of the horses we got have a body score of one, which is one notch above zero and zero is dead," Richmond said.
Everyone involved in this sad story has the same question: why were these horses not cared for?
Public records show that Ryder's River Ridge Farm has earned over $542,000 on racetracks in Louisiana since 2009. And, during this same time, they've also received an additional $500,000 in breeders' awards from the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeding Association, which brought in over $1 million.
When asked where the money went, Paul Ryder said, "That's what I'd like to know. Me and a lot of other people."
Now the rescued horses spend their days at Richmond's farm grazing on all the grass that they want. Volunteers are working to rehabilitate horses like back to good health.
But, these luscious fields are only temporary. All of these horses need permanent homes.
"We're looking for homes for all of them and we're going to be hopeful. There's an adoption process if someone's interested in adopting a horse they can look at pictures. They can come out and view the horses," Richmond said.
"I think the way to a horse's heart is through its stomach, and this is a great opportunity for a lot of people to get horses that are going to love them for just feeding them and bringing them back to health," says Jessica Duncan, a veterinarian assisting with the rehabilitation.
As for Paul Ryder, he said he wants to make sure his brother Firal's good reputation lives on.
"That's the reason I'm here...to clear anyone's mind of him being responsible for anything that's happened up there because I know my brother for 80 years," Paul said.
And as for the former race horses that are now racing from death, Paul Ryder said, "I know what I'd rather euthanize one than let it starve to death in front of me, and I don't like to see nothing killed like that. I know a fast death is better than a slow one."
Sadly, two horses died shortly after the rescue took place. It is believed that as many as 50 additional horses remain on the farm, with their conditions unknown. Our phone calls to Clay Ryder were not returned.
The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Department is investigating the situation along with the state police. But so far, no charges have been pressed against Ryder.
Wednesday, May 22 2013 10:16 AM EDT2013-05-22 14:16:34 GMT
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