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Horse-abuse charges denied at academy

Valley Forge Military Academy's president thinks claims stem from "disgruntled" alumnus.

The president of Valley Forge Military Academy and College yesterday "vehemently" denied the animal-cruelty charges recently lodged against the director of the school's equestrian program.

"We really do provide a safe and healthy living environment for our animals," Charles A. "Tony" McGeorge said. "They are an important part of our educational program here, and we go out of our way to take care of their health."

He made similar points in an e-mail Friday evening to parents, sponsors and others.

Horsemanship has been an important component of the Valley Forge program since the school's founding in 1928.

McGeorge said the school has about 36 horses on its 120-acre campus, which includes parts of Radnor and Tredyffrin Townships.

McGeorge's remarks center on the three citations issued Feb. 14 by the district magistrate's court in Devon to Capt. Nicholas Caputo III that allege he failed to provide shelter and proper care for at least a dozen horses at the school in December and January. The charges were brought following an investigation by Chester County's Large Animal Protection Society.

In an Inquirer article on the citations published Friday, a Valley Forge spokeswoman said neither Caputo nor the school could comment on the allegations "because this is a matter of ongoing litigation."

Yesterday, McGeorge said now that he has had the opportunity to review the charges, he strongly denied them. He also said only two of the three citations had been received at Valley Forge. He said the school is defending Caputo because he is an employee.

In a brief e-mail to The Inquirer on Friday evening, he said: "We not only strongly deny these accusations but also look forward to the opportunity to face our accuser in court."

He said the Chester County charges appear to stem from complaints leveled by Justin Flood, whom he described as a "disgruntled" alumnus.

Flood, 25, of Ocean City, N.J., graduated from Valley Forge's high school in 2003 and its two-year college program in 2005. A polo player, Flood said he has been concerned for months about what he viewed as improper horse care.

"I think the cadets should be taught the right way to do things and not the wrong way," Flood said yesterday. "Some of the polo ponies that are always left outside are the same ponies that taught me how to play polo."

On Dec. 14, while humane officers were investigating allegations of horse abuse, Caputo and Valley Forge filed a civil suit in Delaware County against anonymous posters on an online discussion board used by alumni who complained about the horses' care.

The Court of Common Pleas suit against a "John Doe" alleges that comments disparaging the treatment of the horses were false and defamed the reputations of Caputo and Valley Forge.

But McGeorge said the citations "clearly appear to serve as a misguided attempt to establish a defense" for the defamation lawsuit.

The Large Animal Protection Society had been investigating the horses' care since last spring. The society directed the school to make improvements last April, including sheltering the horses.

In the citations issued Feb. 14, Caputo was cited for leaving the horses outside in the cold and rain.

"That's against the law in Pennsylvania," Flood said.

McGeorge yesterday said the school believes it complied with all the society's previous directives.

In his e-mail to parents, he wrote: "The level of care that is provided to the horses at VFMA&C is a sophisticated and individualized care program that includes specialized diets, work routine, hiatus time, and protection for each horse. These specific conditions ensure a high quality of life for each horse at VFMA&C."

Improvements to the horse facilities in the last year, McGeorge said, included renovations costing more than $70,000 "with rubber mats in each horse's stall, new arena footing, new stall doors, and a new pasture for 'turnout' so the horses are able to enjoy adequate run and play time."

The clerk in the magistrate's court in Devon said yesterday that Caputo has not filed his response to the allegations. McGeorge said yesterday that Valley Forge attorneys were drafting the response.

No hearing has been scheduled.