Portion of horse’s tail falls off after State Fair competition

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In a gruesome mystery befitting a Hollywood horror movie, Shalene Snipes wonders who would disfigure an innocent horse.

Snipes, 19, showed her big paint horse, Rebecca, at the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque Sept. 19. About 10 days later, the horse’s tail fell off.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia High School graduate Shalene Snipes has been in 4-H and FFA since fifth grade. She has won many ribbons and prizes with her horse, Rebecca. A Los Lunas veterinarian says he believes someone intentionally sabotaged Snipes’ chances in a State Fair competition by placing something around the horse’s tail, causing some of the bone and hair to fall off.

It was a horrifying experience for the Los Chavez teenager when she saw more than two inches of bloody tailbone fall away from her horse’s magnificent tail.

“I almost felt like I was going to vomit,” Snipes said. “Her tail just popped off, all bloody and soft. You could see the bone — it was sticking out.”

This was one of Snipes’s last 4-H shows since graduating Valencia High School in May. She has been involved in 4-H and FFA since the fifth grade, and has won about 20 high-point buckles, a saddle and numerous ribbons.

They work hard to prepare for shows, she said.

Her mother, Cheri Snipes bought the horse as a 2-year-old for $1,500. She trained and showed the horse as a kind of therapy when her son, U.S. Marine Brent Snipes, served in Iraq.

About six years ago, she gave the horse to her daughter because she wanted to learn how to show.

“I had to learn on her, and she actually taught me,” Shalene said with a smile. “Now, we learn from each other.”

“The combination just clicked,” Cheri said of her daughter and Rebecca. “They got along and it worked.”

The gentle giant is now 11 years old, and a proven winner. She has been shown in halter, western pleasure, English jumper, reining, poles and barrels.

“She does every event,” Cheri said.

Because the horse is so versatile and has won in so many classes, her monetary value has risen to about $20,000, said Cheri.

Mother and daughter took the horse to the Albuquerque fairgrounds the night before Snipes would show.

She settled Rebecca in for the night after shampooing her coat, as well as meticulously combing and braiding her tail. Snipes said she was really proud of Rebecca’s super long tail.

“In the show world, long tails really count,” said Belen veterinarian Marvin Bowman.

Snipes has worked hard over the years to get Rebecca’s tail as long as possible.

“Everybody would comment on how beautiful it was,” Cheri said.

On the morning of the show, Snipes went to the stall to get Rebecca ready. She noticed her nose was scraped and bloody, but couldn’t figure out what happened.

“She’s 11 and pretty settled — not goofy in her stall,” Cheri said. “That was the first red flag.”

In the show ring, Rebecca acted up and was biting at her sides, they said.

Snipes was having difficulty leading her, because she kept running in circles.

“Everybody knew it was uncharacteristic of our horse, and kept asking us what was wrong,” said Cheri with tears in her eyes.

Although Snipes and Rebecca won the western pleasure event, overall the show did not go well, so mother and daughter wrote it off as one of those flukes and went home.

A week later while Snipes was grooming the horse’s tail, she noticed a thick crust and hairless ring around the end of the tailbone. That’s where the thickest, longest tail hair grows.

She kept the area clean and treated it with anti-fungal medicine, but a few days later, more than two inches of the horse’s tail bone and the thick hair with it, separated.

Bowman said something had to be deliberately put around the horse’s tail to cut off the circulation for it to die off like that.

“Somebody was possibly trying to take her out of the show to reduce competition,” said Bowman, the veterinarian who treated the horse. “We seldom see this at this level. You see it more at the world show, where there is a lot more at stake.”

A spinal chord infection from the wound could have been a big problem, even fatal, he said.

“If I didn’t catch that, she’d have been out (in the pasture) and who knows when we would have seen it,” Snipes said. “She could have died. It just bothers me, because she’s my baby, and I love her.”

The horse’s tail won’t grow back, and the tail hair will never be as thick as it was, but the tailbone is healing, Cheri said.

If anyone has any information, call the family at 249-8124.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.