A group of local horse owners gathered with protest signs at Coquina Beach on Friday evening, upset over what they say is mistreatment by a Virginia Beach horse-ride tour operator.
Virginia Beach & Outer Banks Horseback owned by Chase Foster has for several years offered group rides on the beach across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse, one of four horse-tour operators licensed for riding tours on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
In June, one of the group’s horses died during a ride at Coquina Beach. A cause of death has not been released, but the incident renewed efforts by Friday’s protestors, who say they’ve been concerned over the treatment of the tour operator’s horses for years.
The protestors put tape over their mouths and held signs reading: “Abuse is not dignified” with photos of a horse with saddle sores and “Chase you are a disgrace.”
Foster, owner of Virginia Beach & Outer Banks, was setting out on another tour Friday evening and didn’t have time to respond, but said he wanted to set the record straight.
Officials Cape Hatteras National Seashore told the Virginian-Pilot in a statement that an inquiry into the horse’s death in June revealed no signs of abuse.
“Park Service officials are not aware of any abuse of horses used on the riding tours, and there are no active investigations into any horse-riding operations,” the Pilot reported.
On the company website, Virginia Beach & Outer Banks Horseback says its mission has been to save horses from slaughter auctions.
“We started buying horses that were in line to be put down for no reason at all. Saving them and providing them a new home was a rewarding feeling,” the website says. “Through our experience in the industry, we’ve proven our abilities to train these amazing animals to love and trust anyone and everyone of all experience levels.”
This story originally appeared on OBXToday.com. Read More local stories here.