THE DEATH OF A HORSE Saturday night at Cowtown Rodeo in South Jersey has prompted allegations of animal cruelty.

The rodeo's veterinarian, Dr. Robert Stevens, ruled that the 9-year-old horse, Duke, died of a ruptured aneurysm.

"The horse's pale gums and the way it went down is consistent with an aneurysm," said Stevens, adding that he has seen six similar aneurysms in his career.

"The horse was in great shape," Stevens said. "It's something that would've happened if it was out in the field or in the show."

Aneurysms are virtually impossible to detect in horses and cause sudden death when they occur, he said.

But the death "didn't have to happen," according to a member of an animal-rights group who filmed the incident and claimed that Duke was electrocuted.

"The horse was living and breathing one moment, and then falls to the ground and begins convulsing after getting shocked by thousands of volts," said Stuart Chaifetz of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness).

Chaifetz's YouTube video shows what appears to be an electric prod being used on Duke as he exits the gate. About 25 seconds later, Duke falls to the ground and starts convulsing as workers rush to restrain him.

Grant Harris, owner of the rodeo in Woodstown, Salem County, said that Duke passed the required pre-show inspection, was cleared to perform and died of rare but natural causes.

"I've done this my entire life and this is the first time this has happened," said Harris, 59, whose family has operated Cowtown Rodeo for four generations since 1929.

Chaifetz, who filed a complaint with the SPCA yesterday, insisted that the horse was shocked as he left the gate.

"They say 'bred to buck,' " Chaifetz said. "Well, no; pumping thousands of volts into them is forcing them to buck."

But Harris said his horses "buck on their own free will."

"If you have to do something to get them to buck, that's negative reinforcement." Harris said. "You will get them to stop bucking."

Harris told the website TMZ that although it appeared that an electric prod was in the pen, rodeo workers are under strict orders never to use it on a horse.

"An electric shock would not cause an aneurysm like that," said Stevens, the veterinarian. "There was no exit wound or rapid swelling."

The weekly rodeo has about 20 horses and is attended by about 2,000 spectators, Harris said.

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