A 15-year-old mare at a Frederick County farm was sexually mutilated and killed early yesterday, and state police suspect it may be the latest in a series of bizarre attacks on horses in the area.
Other horses have been assaulted in Howard and Carroll counties and in an earlier incident in Frederick. State police said they planned to check into unconfirmed reports of mutilations in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia.
"This is the first incident where the horse has died. But all the incidents certainly have similarities," said Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman. "There's no indication as to why or even how it's being done."
The latest attack occurred at Woodhill Acres, a 16-acre farm in the 2700 block of Urbana Pike in Urbana. The horse, named Star, was found dead yesterday morning about 30 feet outside a barn, said the farm's owner, Richard Hansberger, 36.
"By the drag marks in the barn, you could tell that something was dragged and putting up a fight," Mr. Hansberger said.
"She was a beautiful auburn palomino with a creamy mane and tail. We were planning to breed her in the spring. To think someone would come on to your property and do something like this.
"We're all very frightened. I have four kids, and they're all saying why would somebody do this to one of our horses," Mr. Hansberger said. "I never owned a gun in my life. But I've never felt like I wanted one more than right now."
A pitchfork from the barn was lying about 20 feet from the horse's body, although a veterinarian said it appeared the horse had been cut in the abdomen with a knife, Mr. Hansberger said.
A necropsy showed that the horse was in perfect health before the attack. Mr. Hansberger said the stab wounds did not appear to be life-threatening and that the animal probably died of shock or heart failure.
Mr. Hansberger's mother, who lives on the property with his father and takes care of the family's three horses, last saw the animals about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after feeding and brushing them.
About 1:30 a.m. yesterday, his father awoke briefly to what sounded like banging outside, Mr. Hansberger said, but the noise stopped and he went back to sleep.
It appeared that two people might have been involved in the attack, with one of the attackers at one point sitting on the horse while the other mutilated it, Mr. Hansberger said.
"I've been in a state of shock all day over this. But I want people to know that this stuff is happening. We've been calling all the local farmers and horse owners and everyone who might know someone with a horse," Mr. Hansberger said.
In the other area attacks, the horses suffered stab wounds to the vagina and abdomen.
The incidents all occurred on farms during evenings or on weekends, police said.
Police said they had no suspects or witnesses and were urging horse owners to watch for suspicious people. They also urged owners to take extra precautions for the animals' protection.
Yesterday's attack occurred about a mile from an attack this spring in which two mares were stabbed at the Saddlebrook Farm on Thurston Road, Mr. Hansberger said.
In Carroll County, the attack occurred Sept. 9. Details on that inci
dent were not available last night.
The Howard County incident occurred Aug. 15 at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center on Frederick Road in Lisbon. An 18-year-old mare, a chestnut quarter-horse named Gypsy, was found bleeding from several cuts on her left side.
Her owners initially assumed that the horse had cut herself on a gate, but a riding instructor found knife wounds while treating her. Gypsy, a favorite of children at the center, received stitches, painkillers and antibiotics.
The mare's owners, Helen and John Tuel, offered a $1,000 reward for information about the attack. Ms. Tuel said at the time that she feared the attack might have been made by a cult.
She said two equestrian magazines to which she subscribes have warned readers about cults that have sexually mutilated mares in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County.
State police said they would be looking today into reported attacks in those areas and whether they are linked to the other cases.