Updated: October 3, 2022
Craig Burkholder was sleeping when his neighbor sent a disturbing text message at 9:48 p.m. It said: “That light in our yard is a pig hunter, he knows about your horses.”
Burkholder read it in the morning and thought: “Oh expletive, I should get down there.”
He would soon find what he feared. One of his five beautiful horses had been shot on Sept. 18 or 19 on his 22-acre property in Honomu, a small town north of Hilo on the Big Island.
Onyx, a Friesian-Percheron mix, was lying in the middle of his large field while her 11-week-old foal, Uhane, danced around her.
Onyx was dead, with a bullet lodged in her front shoulder area by her leg.
The horse was shot by a friend of Robin Sandlin, the neighbor who sent the text message. The friend, who has not been identified, was hunting wild pigs on Sandlin’s property because they were continuing to damage his 25-acre country estate, which is for sale for $1.425 million and has been on the market since June 23.
“We’re so sad about it,” Sandlin said. “It was a tragic accident that we wish didn’t happen and that we wish we could take back. But that’s not what we can do at this moment in time.”
Burkholder said he thinks it’s far worse than a tragic accident. And he is right.
Hawai’i state law prohibits hunting from one-half hour after sunset to one half-hour before sunrise on public or private property. Artificial light for hunting is prohibited, too.
And, it also is against the law to shoot and kill another person’s horse.
Onyx was large, at 17.3 hands tall (nearly 6 feet), and she was black in color, blending into the darkness of the night.
But hunters never should shoot at something they can’t see.
“The hunter taking the shot is responsible for where the bullet goes,” said Antonio Abraham, chairman of the Hawaiʻi County Game Management Advisory Commission. “He is supposed to see beyond the intended target before even taking a shot.”
Burkholder wants to know how in the world this hunter, who has not been publicly identified, mistakes a horse for a pig?
“Onyx wasn’t even near the neighbor’s property line,” Burkholder said. “She was in the middle of my field.”
The hunter never called for help for the horse. When Sandlin was asked if he knew a horse had been shot, he said: “I did not,” before saying he could not comment further.
Burkholder said he called the Hawai’i Police Department immediately. Officer Collin Roberts responded. He left Burkholder and his husband Hal Fansler with a notification. It included the report number and classified the incident as “Cruelty to Animals 1.”
Burkholder said Thursday Officer Collins and another officer returned to his house to continue the investigaton. He took the bullet fragment and also obtained information about the value of Onyx.
Burkholder said the officer told him the hunter had turned in the gun to police. The hunter could be facing felony and misdemeanor charges.
Burkholder said the officer also told him that it is unlikely his neighbor will be charged criminally.
Burkholder doesn’t understand why that may be the case, but he said “100%” he will be facing a civil case.
To Burkholder and Fansler, their horses are like their kids and definitely part of their family.
Burkholder fought back tears as he talked about the love he had for Onyx: “She was big and stately with long hair on her feet. She was quite the queen.”
Onyx is about 16, and has been with Burkholder and Fansler for 12 years. They breed their horses, and Uhane was Onyxʻs first foal.
“So many of our friends would come over to visit and Onyx acted so proud of her baby,” Burkholder said.
It also is difficult for him to discuss how much the foal misses his momma.
Uhane was trying to nurse from Onyx after she was killed. Now Burkholder and Fansler are trying to integrate the baby horse with their other three adult horses who are housed in a different barn from the small one Onyx and Uhane shared before the incident.
“I have a good herd of horses. They are very welcoming,” Burkholder said. “But she is scared.”
After Onyx was shot, Burkholder said it took 40 minutes to get the anxious Uhane back to the barn.
Uhane was frantic for days. Burkholder and Fansler took turns sleeping in her stall, while the other slept in the backseat of a truck.
“Uhane is like a baby,” Burkholder said. “When she wakes up in a panic, Hal will talk to her and I will sing to her.”
He sings his own version of Evita’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” only it is “Don’t Cry For Me Uhane.”
He said Uhane now is doing a little better and doesn’t need them to sleep in her stall.
It has been a traumatic few days for all. They had to use an excavator to load Onyx onto a trailer for a trip to her veterinarian in nearby Waimea. The veterinarian was able to retrieve the bullet.
Onyx now is buried on Burkholder and Fanslerʻs property.
Burkholder said the irony of the situation is that his neighbor initially didn’t want to set up snares to catch the wild pigs because he didn’t want to kill them. So why his neighbor resorted to obtaining a hunter now — and at night — is bewildering.
And why was he sent a text so late at night, while he was sleeping. Had he got the text earlier he would have secured all of his horses in their barns.
“It was so reckless. So irresponsible,” said Burkholder, who wants everyone responsible to be held accountable. “We are so heartbroken.”
A friend of Burkholder and Fansler has set up a gofundme account: Justice for Onxy and Care for Uhane.
“We are so thankful for all the support we have received,” Burkholder said. “We feel like the whole community feels what we do.”