By STEVE BINDER
MARION, Ill. — To many people it may not seem like the most serious of crimes, but to Jim Jenkins and horse lovers everywhere, the cutting and stealing of horse tails is downright cruel.
“It breaks my heart, it really does,” said Jenkins, owner of the Southern Illinois Equestrian Center near Marion. “This is so wrong. We didn’t know what to do.”
On two separate occasions since Jan. 2, thieves have sneaked into the center’s barns and cut the tails on six horses, a brazen act Jenkins believes is tied to the market value of horst tails for use as extensions for show horses and for horsehair jewelry. “Someone needs to be reprimanded big time, and maybe we can curb this,” he said.
Michelle Cornman keeps some of her horses at the center, and she’s outraged. “I am really upset at whoever did this. I couldn’t imagine who would want to hurt them,” she said. “They violated the trust of the community.”
Williamson County Sheriff Bennie Vick, himself a horse lover, said while not commonplace in southern Illinois, the act of stealing horsetails is more widespread out West. He explained horsetail hair can fetch upwards of $80-$100 each on the black market, especially hair with unique colors.
“I guess some different colors of horse hair are a higher price,” Vick said.
The sheriff noted he is continuing to investigate the two cases, but has no solid leads yet. The center wasn’t equipped with video surveillance at the time, but it is now, Jenkins added.
Cornman said she’s found a couple of websites for show horses that sell horsetail extensions of up to $500 each, depending on the colors and weight. There’s a growing market as well for horsehair jewelry, she said, such as bracelets that don’t take much hair to make.
The six horses at the center that were snipped had about three feet of their tails removed, an act that didn’t cause them any pain but will leave them with problems during the summer months. Tails are used to swat away biting flies, Jenkins noted.
In Illinois, the act of stealing a horsetail is a Class A misdemeanor that carries with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, Vick said: “That’s what they can expect if we catch them.”