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☛ Abusive horse trainer ordered to pay $160,000 settlement 9-13-16





By Glory Ann Kurtz
Sept. 13, 2016

Bella Gunnabe Gifted, a money-earning reining horse, was put down from a basilar skull fracture after being bitted up with a curb bit and left alone in a solid round pen for more than an hour. Trainer Mark Arballo recently settled with the owners for a $160,000 settlement, plus he is servinhg three-years probation and not allowed to triain horses during the sentence.

According to an article on, a trainer that three years ago caused the death of a horse he was training recently reached a $160,000 settlement with the horse’s owner. Although the trainer’s settlement is not an admission of liability in civil court, he pleaded guilty to felony animal cruelty in March 2015, which is now a felony in all 50 states, and is serving a three-year probation sentence in North Carolina and is not allowed to train horses during his sentence.
Click for FBI article>>


Mark Arballo, an NRHA reining horse trainer who was working as Arballo Reining Horses LLC for Martha Torkinton at her River Valley Ranch,  in the County of San Diego, Calif., at the time of the incident, currently resides in the County of Nash, N.C. According to court records it was reported that Arballo’s co-defendant and former partner Patrice Hohl, are believed to be romantically involved.


Arballo, who along with other trainers were permitted to train horses at the River Valley Ranch, joined the group in February 2011. In September 2013, Arballo bitted up 6-year-old Bella Gunnabe Gifted with a curb bit and left her alone in a solid round pen for more than an hour with her head “tied around,” while he taught lessons.


When the mare was discovered, she was unable to get up, had blood in her ear and her eyes moved rapidly back and forth. Bella’s euthanasia ended her suffering and it was a veterinarian’s determination that she had suffered a basilar skull fracture or a broken skull. A basilar skull fracture is a fracture of the basilar bone of the skull, which is part of the floor of the skull that holds the brain, resulting in the cerebral spinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, to leak from the nose or the ear.


Bella, a Paint mare was sired by Colonel’s Smoking Gun, an NRHA Hall of Famer better known as “Gunner,” and like her sire, she had found success in the reining arena. Torkinton said that her eggs would be valuable due to her great pedigree.


In August, the defendants’ dog bit Bella on the nose and in September, they noticed a bump on the mare’s head after a training session, which Arballo denied causing. Torkinton was working on a process to terminate Arballo’s contracts and remove the defendants from the property when the training incident and death of Bella happened.


Even though the defendants tried to add two additional terms regarding a “confidentiality agreement,” Torkinton’s attorney said that “a confidentiality clause that restricts First Amendment rights is anything but standard and was not discussed with the court,” and the defendants did not get their confidentiality clause – but rather got a huge fine.


However, the plaintiffs were responsible for a lien as Torkinton’s property insurance carrier, Markel Insurance Company, asserted a lien for payments made to the Torkintons after the death of Bella.


However, trainers must keep in mind that the court’s decision and the FBI’s felony law on cruelty to animals now has a “set precedent” on cruelty to animals in a training situation.


Rick Dennis wrote a great article for in the May 15, 2015 issue called “Bridles, Bits and Abuse,” that everyone should read – even if they have read it before. It is an indepth study about the abuse of horses by trainers , including how they do it, what equipment they use and what the horse associations are doing about it.


Following is the one paragraph that I like the best and encompasses the answer to horse abuse:

The truth of the matter is there are no shortcuts in training a horse – only lazy trainers!  To properly train a horse requires hard work, hours-upon-hours of saddle time, wet saddle blankets and devotion to the job at-hand. I know this truth to be self evident, as I’m a judicially certified professional multiple-event reined cow horse trainer. The antiquated abusive training techniques developed over the years by unethical self-professed horse trainers should be prohibited and removed from the industry, along with the trainers practicing these unorthodox and abusive training practices. At my training facility, horses are ridden into submission, not beaten into submission, and trained the right way.”

Click for Bridles, Bits & Abuse>>





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  1. A great outcome and hopefully it makes people realize the days of getting away with abuse are ending. Please follow our website and FaceBook page to assist in bringing welfare to the front. The final one paragraph is the lost art in the world of the show horse and entertainment.

  2. It is wide spread in the cutting horse industry….One of these days some group like PETA is going to get wind of it and get videos….I am just about 100% against more government intervention in anything….However, I am starting to think horse trainers of all disciplines should be tested and licensed…Instead of getting a slap on the hand they would stand to lose their career if they were caught abusing horses….As it is, any idiot can hang out his or her shingle whether or not he/she has even rudimentary of the horses physiology, anatomy or mind….

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