Case continued for prominent equestrian facing assault, animal cruelty charges

Published 11:55 am Friday, July 21, 2023

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Next court appearance now scheduled for September 6


POLK COUNTY—On Wednesday, July 19, a prominent local horse trainer facing assault and felony animal cruelty charges had his case continued until the fall.

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John “Vic” Russell, 75, was arrested on July 5 after allegedly shooting a horse that his son was riding during a heated argument and was charged with assault on a person with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and felony animal cruelty causing the death of an animal.

Police arrived at Ly-Nard Hills Farms in Green Creek after getting a call about a fight involving gunfire on July 5. Deputies determined that a dispute happened between Russell and his adult son and that the horse – a Grand Prix jumper named Franklin’s Tower – had been shot. The horse had to be euthanized. 

Russell had allegedly been trying to shoot his son, who was unharmed

Vic Russell is well-known in the local equine community, with a long career competing and training in the show ring. A native of the area, Russell is an active member of numerous local organizations and was featured on Tryon International Equestrian Center’s website as a “local legend” in 2021.

Last month, he received the “Horseman of the Year” award and was inducted into the Carolina Show Hunter Hall of Fame.

“(We are) deeply saddened and disturbed by the recent news involving Mr. Vick Russell and the death of a horse caught in the middle of a family dispute,” the organization said on its Facebook page. “The alleged criminal conduct of Mr. Russell, if true, violates the high standards of the Carolinas Show Hunter Hall of Fame and our entire equestrian community.”

Russell plans to plead not guilty to the two felonies, according to his lawyer, Jeniffer Labbe.

“I have known Vick Russell for many years, and he loves his children and horses, and this was a tragic accident,” Labbe told the New York Times. “The gun could have accidentally gone off.”

Russell was released on a $90,000 bond. His next court date will be on September 6 in Polk County.