CLAY COUNTY – In a lot adjacent the Middleburg Tractor Supply, Michelle Braithwood finally got her horse back.
Braithwood, of Jacksonville, waited with friends, family and a horse trailer for her 25-year-old Quarter Horse, Shadow, that had been missing for nearly five months. Deputies were called to keep the peace.
A couple pulled up with a trailer and Shadow was transferred, chomping on the weeds. Shadow appeared to have lost weight and was covered in lesions and patches of missing hair.
Braithwood was handed a piece of paper entailing what the horse had been fed. Braithwood said Shadow wasn’t supposed to eat “sweet feed,” or pellets high in molasses content.
A truck driver, Braithwood usually goes long periods of time without seeing her horse. Owning a horse isn’t cheap. She pays to board horses, for feed, veterinarian bills and tests. She chose Sunset Farms and Boarding of Middleburg last August, run by Nancy Koester, who declined to comment for this story.
Braithwood said used PayPal to pay Koester because it was simple to use and created a paper trail with titles for each entry. Braithwood’s 34-page complaint filed Sept. 15 in civil court showed multiple text exchanges between the two, mostly about payments. The last exchanges concerned Shadow’s state-required blood test. Koester delayed, according to the complaint.
With the arrival of Hurricane Dorian, Braithwood sought to move her horse. She did not receive a response, she said, and Dorian passed. Braithwood said the lack of responses led her to call the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for a wellness check. Via the deputy, Braithwood learned her horse was not at Sunset Farms, and Koester said Braithwood was behind on board.
The PayPal receipts in the complaint detail payments for feed and board from September 2018 to July 26, 2019, which vary from $8-$260. According to Braithwood, Koester would ask for money for feed and Braithwood would pay.
“I never thought twice about it because I was told Shadow needed food,” Braithwood said.
At the wellness check, Braithwood said she recorded a video where Koester said she sent the horse away in June. Braithwood said her payments to Koester carried into September.
Braithwood said she believed the horse was sent away in retaliation for a complaint she filed to state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in April related to changes from the original agreement between the two, such as paying more for boarding or being put on a “hay pool,” paying for other horses’ hay and issues pertaining to Shadow’s diet.
In Koester’s counterclaim to the state, which Braithwood disputed, she said Braithwood was late on most payments, rarely saw the horse and there was a lack of communication. Koester said she had to provide feed, while the contract stated Braithwood was supposed to. Koester said in her response that she was concerned with the horse’s weight and “When money becomes an issue (Braithwood) changes what (Shadow) gets to eat.”
In an undated text message in Braithwood’s complaint, Koester asks why Braithwood hasn’t paid in three months, which Braithwood acknowledges.
She went for nearly a month without seeing Shadow. She started a Facebook page called, “Where is Shadow the Stolen Horse.”
“He’s not a pet, he’s a family member,” Braithwood said before the horse’s recovery.
Braithwood attempted to contact Koester multiple times. Both ended up before Circuit Judge Timothy Collins earlier this month after Braithwood filed a small claim for about $2,600.
Collins ordered the return of the horse or Koester would be held in contempt of court. The horse was returned, but its whereabouts were not revealed.
Braithwood and Koester have a hearing in civil court next week. Braithwood said she would pursue criminal charges and the situation is ongoing.