In recent months our Seven-On-Your-Side office got several complaints that we had never heard before.
People were voluntarily giving their horses to what they believed would be a "forever home," only to now have serious second thoughts about the wisdom of their decision.
We went to Johnson County... where these horses should be living out their days.
The real story is not what we found...but what we failed to find.
We didn't find a lush 60 acres. We didn't find plenty of hay. And most importantly...we didn't find any of the horses in question.
"My fear is that the horse went to slaughter," says Donna Hutchison about her horse Chance. "That's my biggest fear. I was looking for a forever home for my horse. He was crippled. He would be hard to sell."
Chance was a great barrel horse until bone spurs slowed him down...and now even prevents trail riding.
While his life has slowed, Donna's is busier than ever. She is unable to give Chance the time and attention he craves and deserves.
That is why a posting last summer by a man named Robert Clayton on the Facebook forum "Arkansas Horse Friends" caught her interest.
"He had retired here from Texas," recalls Hutchison. "Had 60 acres. Had cut all his hay. Had all the feed. His brother-in-law was a vet in Texas. The horse would be well taken care of. It went on and on."
In July Donna says she met Robert and Anita Clayton in Glenwood and she sent Chance off to his forever home.
Around that same time a Batesville woman under financial pressure chose to giver her two horses to Robert Clayton rather than sell them, believing it was the only way she could ensure they would have a good home.
And Reba Jones says she trusted her 28 year-old gray mare, a purebred Arabian, and a 17 year-old black and white mini-mare to the Claytons because she had suffered a heart attack and needed to cut down her responsibilities.
But after giving their horses away, all developed serious concerns.
Hutchison sent Clayton a Facebook message: "Tried to call you and didn't get a reply. I am praying that I was not suckered. I have a heavy heart right now and would certainly appreciate you letting me know he is all right."
Clayton replied: "He is doing great. If anything happened that I couldn't keep him I would give him back. Thank you for Chance and he is never going to a sale or slaughter house...trust me, he will have a home here as long as he lives."
The forever home is a piece of property near Coal Hill just south of Interstate 40 in Johnson County.
We traveled there with Hutchison to look for her horse and the other horses.
While there were several horses on the property, none of them were the ones sent off to their "forever home."
There was also no sign of the Claytons. And the name on the mailbox isn't Clayton...it's Thompson.
We learned at the Johnson County Sheriffs Office that the Claytons aren't really the Claytons...they are actually Brent and Sylvia Thompson.
The Thompsons operate Clayton Farms, or 5T Farms, depending on what Internet forum you are on.
And they sell horses. Quite a few horses.
One place they don't sell horses is the nearby London Auction Barn.
"They came and bought two horses on credit and never did pay for them," says Gary Thompson, owner of the London Auction Barn.
"So in your mind they are not trustworthy?"
"They won't be buying any more," replies Thompson (no relation to Brent and Sylvia Thompson). "They are not welcome at London Auction Barn."
"I don't know where he went," worries Hutchison about Chance. "I just want to know where my horse is. I understand I let him go. I can't get him back. I willingly let my horse go. I'd just like to know where he is. That he is alright and he has got a good home."
We visited with both Brent and Sylvia Thompson on the phone today but neither would agree to a recorded interview.
We showed the horse owners pictures of the Thompsons and all agree they are the Thompson are the couple who took their horses.
But the Thompsons deny ever meeting the families or taking their horses.
Air date: April 30th, 2013
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