An equine-assisted therapy program operator is facing multiple animal cruelty charges after the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) seized more than 30 horses from the farm.

Frank Rizzo, chief of the NJSPCA law enforcement division, said the agency had received numerous complaints about a farm belonging to Aiyanna Callaway, who operated so-called equine-assisted therapy program Horses 4 Hope, in Pohatcong, New Jersey.

During property visits, Rizzo said investigators found the carcass of a horse that had been euthanized, one horse displaying signs of illness and unable to stand, and another showing clinical signs of botulism; both animals were euthanized due to their conditions. Thirteen of the 37 live horses on the property had body condition scores below 2, he said.

“Witnesses reported that Callaway ordered hay in shrink wrap, had it rolled into the field, and left it up to the horses to rip through the plastic with their teeth,” he said.

Investigators also found that horses only had access to water from a pond that collected equine feces and urine runoff, he added.

Callaway subsequently relocated the surviving the horses to a rescue ranch, but allegedly instructed operators to give her own horses the best grain and feed her other horses whatever was available, Rizzo said. She also allegedly told some individuals that she was “hiding behind her horse therapy program for kids” to avoid obtaining required licenses.

The NJSPCA seized the surviving horses.

On June 17, the NJSPCA charged Callaway with 15 animal cruelty counts for failing to provide necessary care and for failing to provide necessary care resulting in serious bodily injury or death.

Callaway was unavailable for comment and Horses 4 Hope’s website has been removed.

Horses 4 Hope was presented online as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that accepted public donations. Ellen Twohig of the independent watchdog organization CharityWatch, recommends that would-be donors do their homework before making contributions to any charitable group.

CharityWatch recommends potential donors:

  • Learn about the charity, who operates it, and who sits on its board of directors. Verify whether the organization has obtained required licensing, and if it has been recorded with local, state, and federal authorities, including the Internal Revenue Service;
  • Find out where your dollars go. Learn how much is spent on administrative costs and how much actually supports the charity’s programs;
  • Visit the organization, if possible;
  • Give directly to the organization; and
  • Keep a record of all contributions.

The New Jersey case will be heard in Pohatcong Municipal Court on July 13.