By Tilden Bowditch
More than a month after a prize-winning thoroughbred was shot in Rockbridge County, the county sheriff’s office is still trying to understand what happened.
The horse’s owner, Bob Caldwell, who shows horses as a hobby, called the shooting “a random act of violence.”
“We’ve got one sick person that just gets a kick or some kind of thrill out of shooting something,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell’s horse, named Petis, was shot between 4 p.m. Jan. 2 and 8:30 a.m. Jan. 3 while in a back pasture at Sunrise Stables on U.S. 60. The horse was still in the field when the stable manager found him with a wounded leg.
“If he moved after he was shot, he didn’t move far,” Caldwell said.
The 12-year-old thoroughbred was still alive but had been shot high in his left leg. His bone was shattered and the bullet entered his lung, causing internal bleeding, Caldwell said.
The damage was beyond repair and causing Petis pain.
Caldwell was in New York at the time and gave the veterinarian permission to euthanize the horse. Caldwell returned to Rockbridge County the next day to meet with deputies, who began investigating immediately.
Caldwell is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the shooter’s arrest and conviction. The shooter faces felony charges of destruction of property and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Sheriff’s Investigator Miles Kelly said he hopes the reward will speed the investigation. Both Caldwell and Kelly think the shooting was intentional.
This is not the first horse shooting in the area. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, four cows and a horse were shot in separate incidents in Rockbridge County in 2010.
Rockbridge County authorities “suspect a serial livestock killer is on the loose and will likely strike again,” according to the story.
A farmer quoted in the story describes how his horse was shot from a roadway during the night and found dead in the morning.
In the past shootings, according to the story, some local farmers believed a hunter mistook the horses or cows for deer. Caldwell says he doesn’t buy that theory in his case.
“They don’t grow deer in this area near that size,” he said.
The six-foot-tall horse wore a blanket with reflector strips on it. The moon was full, making the pasture on the hill well lit, Caldwell said.
Hunting hours are posted as “sunrise to sunset” on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website. The timeframe of the incident leaves few hours of sunlight considering the short, dark days of winter.
Kelly said it is possible someone shot Caldwell’s horse from Interstate 81. Kelly does not know whether the suspect walked onto the farm from the road or if he shot from his car.
“With the distance from the interstate to where the horse was found, it would’ve been a very, very difficult shot with a very, very high-power rifle,” said Caldwell, who is a hunter.
Caldwell said he and his wife are devastated by the loss of their prize-winning horse.
“There was a certain elegance to that horse. When he moved, it was like fluid motion,” he said. “He was a beautiful animal to watch.”
Caldwell said his mind won’t be at peace until the shooter is found.
“You’re constantly walking around fearful,” he said. “There are a lot of horses here. When is this nutcase going to make a decision to shoot another one?”