The Philadelphia School District is “deeply concerned” by an incident last week at Walter B. Saul High School in Roxborough in which the manes of several school horses were cut off by an unknown perpetrator.
Saul, an agriculture-focused school, has been known for over 30 years for its horses, which can often be seen grazing in a pasture along Henry Avenue. They have become a fixture in the neighborhood, and this incident was the first of its kind in decades where the animals are there, a school district spokesperson said.
Intrusion into the school farm “This is not only illegal, but also dangerous,” Christina Clark, communications officer for the school district, said in a statement.
Jane Arbasak, Saul’s farm manager, noticed the problem last Friday when she stopped on the school grounds to talk with two young girls who were watching the horses. And that’s when she saw him.
“One of them looked like he had been butchered, and the other looked like someone had literally taken a pair of scissors and just cut straight,” Arbasak told The Inquirer. “I was just flabbergasted.”
Online, the prevailing theory is that someone cut off the horses’ manes to sell the hair to make hair extensions. But, Arbasak said, that doesn’t make much sense, especially in the case of mare Ohana and gelding Striker. On these horses, she says, the forelocks — the part of the mane that hangs over the horse’s face — have been cut off. That’s only about three inches of hair, Arbasak said, which isn’t worth much in terms of hair extensions.
“It just floored me,” she said. “Why they would cut off the forelock, I have no idea.”
Farm staff, she added, rarely cut the horses’ hair and almost never attack their tops, manes or tails. Their last cut was in early June, when Arbasak and his staff cut the horses’ bridleways, an area on the back of the animals’ necks, so their halters would fit better. Occasionally they cut off the horses tail as they can become long enough to drag on the ground.
Clark said cutting off a horse’s mane is a bad idea because the mane helps protect the horse from the sun and helps keep flies away. Recently cut horse hair will take months to grow back.
When she found out about the unauthorized cutting, Arbasak said, she briefly considered moving the horses out of the pasture where people in the neighborhood can see and interact with them.
“I’ll tell you what, I was crazy,” she said. “Is it really like you’re going to cut off my mane?” I don’t need to have them here, because they’re not for the neighborhood – they’re for the kids.
In the end, however, Arbasak realized that the best thing for the horses was to let them hang out in the pasture. But, she said, the school is working on installing new, purpose-built fencing for the horses – a change she says was underway before the mysterious haircuts. Arbasak also plans to install an electric wire inside the new fence to keep horses away.
With these changes, she said, people would still be able to see and interact with the horses, but neither animals nor humans could easily cross the fence. The plan is to begin installation later this summer before Saul’s students return to school.
An equally important problem with unauthorized cutting, however, is the danger of approaching an animal like a horse without knowledge or supervision. Not only is it dangerous at the moment — horses, Arbasak said, can weigh more than 1,400 pounds and run fast while making little noise — but it’s also not good for a horse living in a learning environment like Saul, where dozens of children interact. with animals on a daily basis. Such interactions could inadvertently teach them behaviors that will ultimately impact students.
“The most important point is that every time someone interacts with a horse, a cow or a sheep, you are teaching them a behavior,” she said. “It’s not about you, it’s about the kids.”