Chris Emerson and his horse Trigger left Greenwood, South Carolina, some weeks ago and headed south. The pair passed through Georgia into Florida and nearly made it all the way to Key West before a TV news crew spotted them in West Palm Beach and asked what they were up to. Emerson told WPBF News last week that he'd just divorced his wife, crashed his truck, and was going through a "rough patch." He wanted to clear his head by trotting all the way to the end of America.
But Trigger, the horse, was going through some rough patches of his own. Instead of "clearing his head" in Key West, Emerson was arrested for animal cruelty today in Miami-Dade County.
South Florida SPCA members say Trigger had clearly been neglected: Sores stung his mouth, his leg was swollen, and his back was so sore he snapped at anyone who tried to touch it.
"He’s probably a 20-year-old horse, he's blind in one eye, very malnourished, and not in any physical condition to go on the journey that this guy took him on," South Florida SPCA branch director Laurie Waggoner said via phone.
In August, a Brevard County woman, Sally Taylor, said she and her friends saw photos of Emerson and let Trigger and Emerson stay on a nearby ranch. She said her friends took Emerson shopping and cared for him while making sure the horse got as much care as he needed.
"Chris only wanted some boots and a knife, which worried me," Taylor told New Times. She said Emerson's stories kept changing. "First he said was coming out of a bad divorce, but later on, he told me the divorce was years ago, so I didn’t know what to believe," she said. "He also said his brother in Greenwood bought the horse originally from an auction for $50."
Trigger, meanwhile, was in rough shape. She said his saddle had virtually zero padding and was held together with duct tape and twine. The bit — the metal mouthpiece of a bridle — was in backward, which hurt his mouth.
"The ladies talked him into letting a vet see him," Taylor says. "They volunteered to pay for a vet to come out, but Chris was not happy with that idea at all. He didn’t want people seeing the horse, which tells me he knew what condition the horse was in." She said he barely knew how to feed the horse correctly and routinely beat the side of Trigger's body.
"He made me cry so often I had to stop going out there," Taylor says. Despite ample warning to stay home and let Trigger heal, Emerson eventually left and continued down the coast.
Facebook users up the coast had reported that Trigger was in poor health as early as November 7:
On Friday, one Florida resident created a Change.org petition to beg the Florida Senate to stop letting people ride malnourished horses around the Sunshine State. WPBF's news segment riled even more residents: Many horse-owning Floridians said they were upset that WPBF didn't notice how hungry and mistreated Trigger looked in the station's news segment.
Despite the rash of complaints, Emerson and Trigger reached downtown Miami some time this morning. Multiple social media users, including the Miami Herald's Doug Hanks, reported running into the pair as Trigger snacked on grass at the Underline:
You can meet the most interesting people on The Underline. Chris Emerson and Trigger, on their way to Key West pic.twitter.com/9J41qdYSpw— Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks) November 22, 2016
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But once Trigger reached Miami-Dade, a South Florida SPCA spokesperson tells New Times, the organization began getting a rash of calls. Concerned residents demanded the police take Emerson in. Taylor, the Brevard woman, said she had been in contact with the South Florida SPCA for weeks.
So earlier today, Miami-Dade County Police's Agricultural Patrol division apprehended Emerson and transported Trigger to the SPCA's ranch. Wagner, the SPCA branch director, said Emerson didn;t cooperate with the police. (Miami-Dade Police did not immediately give New Times Emerson's arrest report.)
Once Emerson bonds out of jail, he'll have to appeal to get his horse back. If he doesn't appeal, Trigger could remain at the ranch in Miami until someone adopts him.
"The horse seems nice enough," Waggoner says. "All he wants to do is eat."