‘Trusting, gentle’ horse tortured, dismembered in Manatee County


PALMETTO, FL (WFLA) – It’s a heartbreaking case of animal abuse, so cruel that even longtime Manatee County investigators were shocked by what they saw Sunday morning. A prize-winning show horse, described as incredibly gentle and trusting, was found dismembered on the property of Imperial Farms Equestrian Center in Palmetto. The 12-year-old Chestnut, who loved people, was led to his death, forced to suffer unimaginable pain.

Steve Stephens, the horse’s owner, is understandably heartbroken. “This is a murder. This was not a sickness,” he told WFLA Sunday afternoon. “This is an outright murder.”

Stephens’s wife, Debbie, recently traveled abroad and found the horse in Germany and was planning to show him next week. Stephens said, “He was ready to compete.” The horse was in Tampa Bay for just three days before he was killed. Named Phedras De Blondel, the “gentle” animal was a member of their family, Stephens said. “We couldn’t believe it, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

He says the horse was taken directly from his stable, then led to the slaughter on the far end of the property. “These are very friendly animals. They’re do what you want them to do,” Stephens said. An employee made the tragic discovery Sunday morning.

Stephens says all four legs were missing from the horse. He believes the majestic animal was butchered for horse meat, adding that the cuts were precise and exact. “They knew what they were doing. They had the right tools,” he said. “I just don’t understand it. We did an autopsy, and we found out they stabbed him in the heart and let him bleed out.”

Manatee Sheriff’s investigators were on scene Sunday afternoon. A large tarp was draped over the horse’s body.

Now, investigators are searching for the person who did this. “My wife will spend the rest of her life trying to find the people who did this. She will move heaven and earth to make it happen. And, once she finds out, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure the people are kept behind bars. We think it was more than one person,” Stephens maintains. “We are going to offer a substantial reward as continue to work with the Sheriff’s Office.”

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