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The Horse Soldier

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A longtime opponent who battled with her back when they both were members of the Colorado Federation of Animal Welfare Agencies says Duxbury's caution may be justified. "Her paranoia is probably intelligent paranoia," says Rob "Dr. Rob" Hilsenroth, who formerly served as the pet-health expert for KUSA-TV/ Channel 9. "She knows people are out to get her. She just has a kind of temperament where she gets under your skin and pisses you off. Pretty soon people are going to get pissed off at her."

Duxbury says she doesn't wear disguises that often. But there have been times when one would have come in handy. In an El Paso County barn in 1994, back in the days when Project Equus was just an idea, Duxbury was taking a horse-riding lesson when someone recognized her face from television. "He grabbed me by the shoulder and popped me in the eye," she recalls.

Another time she investigated a claim of abuse in unincorporated Arapahoe County. She approached the pen in question and took photographs to send to John Maulsby, the assistant state veterinarian.

"A guy came to the door at the house next to the pen," she says, "and he started yelling at me. I ignored him, and then he came running out in just his pants. He grabbed a rake and came after me."

Maulsby says he's investigated more than ten trainers at Duxbury's suggestion. None of them have ever been taken to court, but Maulsby says he's still glad Duxbury's around. "Robin is one of those people who really keeps an eye on things," he says.

Most of the tips Duxbury gets on the Project Equus hotline don't pan out. "For every dozen or so phone calls," she admits, "maybe one is legit." Not long ago she checked on a complaint that Colorado Horse Rescue, a group that rescues unwanted horses, wasn't allowing pre-purchase examinations of the animals by vets. She went undercover and called the group on behalf of her "ten-year-old daughter." It turned out there was no problem.

Some people appear to enjoy sending Duxbury on wild goose chases. One call led her to an open field in Erie. There was no sign of a horse.

During another phone call this summer, Duxbury was sure she was being set up. "Someone complained about a trainer I knew," she says. "I think the woman was with some horse association that doesn't like what we were doing. So much of what she was saying was so implausible."

Sharon Jackson, one of Duxbury's colleagues at Project Equus, notes that "Robin has always been a colorful character. She's always run in where angels feared to tread." Jackson speaks as if her friend faces doom around the corner of every stable. And there's concern in Duxbury's voice as she talks about the planned infiltration of a large barn in Adams County.

Many horse owners look to buy hay after Christmas, she says, so she plans to pass herself off as one of them. There are rumors of weapons-stockpiling at this stable and of an owner who won't tolerate intruders. That owner, she adds, once "mentioned me by name," according to a source who used to work there. "He remembered me from the Quinonez trial.

"It's the most potentially risky thing I've done since I started."

Over at the Colorado Horse Council, the verdict is in on Project Equus's stealth approach. Sours has little use for it.

"It's probably an improper way of trying to address something that may be a problem," he says. "I'm one of the first to admit we do have some problems. [But] if there are abuses, they should be confronted up front and through proper channels."

No one else in the horse-investigation business engages in covert ops as much as Duxbury. "We have not done any undercover investigations to date," says Bob Rhode, executive director of the Denver Dumb Friends League. Neither has the local chapter of the American Humane Association.

"I do what it takes to get the job done within legal limits," Duxbury explains. And four times since Project Equus began, its efforts have paid modest dividends. Last September, prosecutors in Arizona asked for technical advice after two trainers trying to work with a horse "chased the horse around the pen," says Duxbury. "The horse got entangled; his hind legs were caught. They lassoed his neck and tried to pull him out. The horse came off the ground with a crushed windpipe." The pair were fined and sentenced to community service.

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T.R. Witcher

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