Longform

The Horse Soldier

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Equus also got a call from California prosecutors over the strange case of Zooloog, a would-be Olympic steed who allegedly got the worst of a vicious custody battle. When his two trainers, Tom Valter and Denise McMillan, broke up, says Duxbury, Zooloog was sent to a ranch in Las Vegas, where he allegedly was abused by two other trainers. He was then sent back to Valter, who, Duxbury claims, "used whatever force to get the horse ready for the '96 Olympic trials," including an electric prod. Valter was convicted last spring on four counts of animal cruelty, and the two Las Vegas trainers received custody of Zooloog.

Now Denise McMillan wants to fly Duxbury and company out to Las Vegas to investigate the Nevada trainers, but Duxbury is skeptical. "We grossly underestimated how much time it would take" to conduct an investigation, she says. "We can't just catch you once. We have to develop a pattern."

Two cases occurred closer to home. One involved an El Paso County horse trainer who was convicted of animal cruelty for whipping a horse. Duxbury says that Project Equus again provided information on horses to local prosecutors. The trainer received 100 hours of community service.

Then there was the Quinonez case, in which the horse was beaten so badly it had to be killed. After charges were filed against Quinonez but before his arraignment, Duxbury issued so-called Action Alerts nationwide to some 15,000 animal-rights activists, who in turn inundated the Jefferson County District Attorney's office with letters and phone calls, pressing for a vigorous prosecution.

Quinonez was convicted on one count of animal cruelty but was acquitted on the more serious charge that he had whacked the horse over the head with a two-by-four.

Duxbury has "fond memories" of her days as a fur hater and prairie-dog lover. Today she says she's shifted from radical animal-rights activist to moderate animal-welfare activist. But the reputation she forged through years of radical protest still comes back to haunt her.

"Have my values changed?" she asks. "No. My approach, my methods, my tactics have changed." Convincing those in the horse world that she's mellowed, though, is an uphill climb. "Project Equus is very professional," says Duxbury. "It's not fun and games. It should be taken seriously. I have a past reputation I have to live down for a while."

"No one is more horrified at that image than Robin," adds Sharon Jackson. "But how do you deal with that? I told her she has to make a new legend."

Duxbury grew up in New York, the daughter of a registered nurse who was a "dyed-in-the-wool liberal" and a Republican father "who still believes Nixon was framed." Her family moved to Denver in 1965, and she attended the University of Colorado in the 1970s, dropping out after two years. She worked odd jobs--"I was basically a bum"--until going to work for a medical company involved in animal research. Soon afterward she was in a pet shop cooing at a bunny rabbit when a woman pointed to the fur coat Duxbury was wearing at the time. "You're cuddling that rabbit when you've got Thumper's whole family on your back," the woman told her. It was an epiphany of sorts, and Duxbury changed tack.

She dove into animal-rights activism, and it didn't take long for her to begin making waves. Her impatience with groups that preferred negotiation to direct action became well-known, and even other activists began to view her as extreme. "She just alienated all of her potential allies in the humane societies," remembers Rob Hilsenroth. "She alienates stock producers, she alienates veterinarians, she alienates humane groups."

After graduating from Loretto Heights College with a degree in English, Duxbury went to work for a private investigator who specialized in insurance fraud. "He was the epitome of a Colombo," she recalls. "Disorganized. He looked like a bum." From him she learned the arm-in-the-sling gag, among other tactics.

In 1986 Duxbury and two others formed the Rocky Mountain Humane Society. In 1988 she first used a wig and phony name as part of an attempt to covertly gather information on Mary Kay. She was invited to a huge house in Cherry Hills Village for a party, and when the company held its annual meeting in Denver that year, she and her RMHS cohorts turned out in droves with banners and bullhorns to protest the proceedings. The event inspired cartoonist Breathed to title a Bloom County book The Night of the Mary Kay Commandos.

Duxbury's group had its share of unusual fights. In 1990 it managed to get the Denver Zoo to cancel elephant and camel rides. Zoo officials claimed they were already considering dropping the attractions but said pressure from Duxbury's group accelerated the decision. The RMHS also wanted to ban balloons at the zoo, fearing they would float away and into the mouths of unsuspecting animals, who would swallow them and die. Duxbury was quoted at the time as saying, "What kind of lasting pleasure do kids get from balloons, anyway? Kids scream for them, and their parents buy them to shut them up." (Though the zoo didn't change its policy then, balloons have since been banned.)

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T.R. Witcher

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