BIG RED FOX CASE
Media Talk; California Couple Sue Horse-Savvy Author
By NY Times
Published: Monday, August 31, 1998
The gushing publicity for the bestselling author Monty Roberts likens him to a compassionate ''real-life horse whisperer'' who is a hybrid of gentle James Herriot and straight-talking John Wayne. But Mr. Roberts, a well-known horse trainer and author of ''The Man Who Listens to Horses,'' is now facing a lawsuit filed by a wealthy California couple who say that their thoroughbred suffered a broken leg and improper treatment during a controversial experiment presided over by Mr. Roberts.
The suit grew out of a BBC documentary, which filmed Mr. Roberts last year as he demonstrated horse- gentling techniques on a wild mustang, which ultimately was allowed to choose between returning to the California desert of the Cuyama Valley or joining with tamed horses.
Charging fraud and negligence, Carolyn and Christopher Carradine -- the brother of the actor Keith Carradine -- say they boarded their horse, Big Red Fox, at Mr. Roberts's 186-acre Solvang farm because of his humane training techniques. But they contend that Mr. Roberts used their horse initially in the wild mustang project without their permission. During the documentary's second stage, the couple permitted their horse to participate, but they contend that Mr. Roberts unexpectedly released Big Red into the wild and offered only minimal care after the horse was found later with bruises, cuts and a broken leg.
''They're outraged,'' said Gerard P. Fox, a Los Angeles lawyer who filed the civil lawsuit for the Carradines in Santa Barbara Superior Court in April. ''They feel that their horse was used as a guinea pig, and Monty showed a very aggressive side. You're talking about two very sophisticated individuals who felt they were being sold a bill of goods.''
The Carradines are seeking up to $100,000 for expenses like veterinary care, plus an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
Mr. Roberts, who earlier this year was honored for his humane treatment of horses by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, did not respond when messages were left seeking comments on the lawsuit.
His publicist, Diana DeRosa, said she was with Mr. Roberts during the BBC filming and witnessed his efforts to care for Big Red. ''He was extremely attentive and a vet was right there,'' Ms. DeRosa said. ''It was the middle of the night and they ended up driving about a hundred miles to the closest vet because the owner wanted a second opinion. The vet was right there when it happened and he was not overly concerned. He took care of it and said this is not a bad wound.'' -- DOREEN CARVAJAL