Press Release

Lawsuit Seeks to Remove at Least 20 Horses From Defunct ‘Rescue’ Organization

Animal Legal Defense Fund seeks to hold California Equine Retirement Foundation responsible for mistreatment of horses


RIVERSIDE, Ca – For more than 30 years, the California Equine Retirement Foundation (CERF) has accepted donations with the stated mission of rehabilitating horses and providing them sanctuary as a forever home. But according to witness accounts, the horses that were residing at CERF’s California property in San Jacinto were being neglected — underfed to the point of starvation, with untreated veterinary conditions that caused suffering and death — all while the organization has let its nonprofit status lapse, avoiding financial and other oversight.

A lawsuit filed today by the Animal Legal Defense Fund on behalf of United Pegasus Foundation (UPF), a California-based nonprofit organization, seeks to permanently remove the approximately 20 remaining horses from CERF. The plaintiffs are also seeking a court order that would prevent CERF and its chief operating officer from operating or being involved with any horse sanctuary in the future and ban them from possessing horses in the future.

“These horses are victims of animal cruelty — and we will pursue every legal avenue to ensure their safety and get justice on their behalf,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that United Pegasus Foundation would have to rescue a horse from CERF—which was once the gold standard of thoroughbred retirement. When my suspicions and the rumors of mass starvation were validated, I couldn’t sleep until we rescued a majority of those horses,” says Helen Meredith, President of the United Pegasus Foundation.

Visitors, volunteers, and former CERF staff validate these concerns about the condition of the horses at CERF. One former CERF volunteer describes a horse named Eagle Rock who suffered with a fatal digestive disorder for several days. Another observer says she was shocked to see at least 20 emaciated horses at CERF in 2019. Others have described similar disturbing situations and raised questions about the management of CERF funds.

Between May 25 and June 15, 2019, 44 horses were removed from CERF’s property. However, CERF has refused to allow the remaining horses — approximately 20 of them — to be removed, putting their lives in danger.

The plaintiffs are bringing claims against CERF in the California Superior Court in Riverside County. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is providing pro bono legal services in the case.

A copy of the complaint and photos of the starved horses are available upon request.

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