The legal case over the death of a world-class dressage mare has concluded, three and a half years later. H&H speaks to all parties involved in the case
THE owner of a world-class horse who drowned in a slurry pit while at stud in 2017 says she is glad the legal action has concluded, as it is “validation of [the mare’s] life”.
Jane Sewell’s 16-year-old mare Die Callas died at Newton Stud, Devon, in July 2017, when she got through a gate to a slurry lagoon, having been turned out as a barn was on fire. Newton Stud admitted liability, and the stud’s insurers and Mrs Sewell have now settled out of court.
Die Callas, who won at international grand prix level with rider Anna Ross, and the combination had been shortlisted for the 2016 Olympics. The mare was injured that year, and Mrs Sewell’s case is that she had healed and was hoped to return to competition, although Newton Stud did not believe this would have been possible owing to the injury.
Mrs Sewell told H&H she had hoped to secure a foal from “Cassie” via embryo transfer and then bring her back into work.
“They tried to inseminate her but it didn’t take; the next thing was that there had been a fire and she’d been put out in the field; then she died,” Mrs Sewell said.
“I was told she’d panicked, so assumed she’d crashed through a fence, but then it turned out that the gate to the slurry lagoon had been [unsecured] and she’d gone through and died in it.”
The stud admitted liability but the parties were unable to agree on the mare’s value.
Mrs Sewell described Die Callas as a horse who “only ever wanted to please”, adding that although she could be “hot”, she was “absolutely gorgeous”.
“She could be fussy about her food; we called her Princess, but there wasn’t a nasty bone in her body,” she said.
“I’m glad I took the action. These places have to acknowledge their responsibilities and that people’s horses are so valuable to them – emotionally and financially.
“I am so grateful to all those in the equestrian community who have reached out to me, offering support and kindness throughout this time. It was an honour to have owned Die Callas and to have been part of her journey.”
Mrs Sewell added that the case highlights the need for slurry pits to be kept absolutely secure, as there should have been “no possible way” a horse could have got into one.
Lorna Wilson, of Newton Stud, told H&H everyone at the stud was “absolutely devastated” by Die Callas’s death.
She said the fire at the stud was a major one, and that it was thanks to the “prompt action” of herself and her staff that no horses were harmed, as all those in the burning barn and the adjacent one, including Die Callas, were turned out into the fields.
“It was an emergency evacuation,” she said. “It was an inferno and we had to get the horses out as quickly and safely as we could. The field into which Die Callas and one other mare were evacuated, to try to keep them safe, lay next to another field in which a slurry pit was located, separated by a fence and a gate.
“In her panic, Die Callas went through the gate and continued into the slurry pit where she tragically died. Despite the challenging circumstances of the emergency that led to the incident, Newton Stud immediately admitted liability for this accident and provided insurance details without hesitation.”
Miss Wilson and Anna Ross said, in a joint statement, issued “in response to ongoing, recent and vigorous attempts to publicly undermine the personal and professional reputations of Lorna Wilson (Newton Stud) and Anna Ross (Elite Dressage)”, that Anna was also “devastated” to hear of Die Callas’s death.
“Newton Stud fully cooperated with Jane Sewell in pursuing her insurance claim and committed to assist with a realistic valuation of Die Callas for claim purposes,” they said.
Mrs Sewell pointed out that the settlement was not reached until over three years after the incident.
The statement added: “Anna, as former rider of Die Callas, was also important to, and participated in, the process of valuation. However, in giving her view, she was unable to support the financial ambitions of the owner in light of Die Callas’s age and injury, which unfortunately led to a breakdown in relations.”
The statement adds that Anna “was, and remains very appreciative for the commitment Jane Sewell made to her as an owner, and the bond between Anna and each of the horses she rode and /or produced was one of deep attachment”.
Hannah Bradley, solicitor at The Equine Law Firm, told H&H: “Die Callas was clearly a special horse, who meant a great deal to her owner. The loss of a horse is never easy to manage, and I was pleased to assist Jane with this upsetting case.
“Although nothing can bring back Die Callas, I hope that Jane feels that she has achieved a sense of justice on her behalf.”
You might also be interested in…
‘It might sound dramatic but it’s like a member of the family has been murdered’
H&H speaks to established equine welfare charities to find out how this recent court case demonstrates the need for licensing
A yard owner who faced a six-figure personal injury claim after accepting £30 from a novice rider to help her