The Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton has received a rare site accreditation from the Certified Horsemanship Association, concluding efforts launched early this year by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to examine claims of horse neglect and abuse at the center.
The horsemanship association, which is the largest equestrian certification body in North America, has certified only one other facility in Illinois and roughly 130 nationwide, officials said. The association certifies instructors, publishes educational resources and accredits equine facilities that comply with its education and safety standards.
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Trish Spiroff, Danada education site manager, called the accreditation "an honor" during a forest preserve commission meeting. David Guritz, forest preserve office of education director, said it opens doors for Danada and the association to partner for programs such as youth equestrian education.
Danada received accreditation for its performance in site standards, programing and horse management. Assessors visited the facility to examine factors such as safety of the public, staff and animals; staff qualifications, policies and procedures; herd-management; record keeping; and the fitness, care and maintenance of equipment.
Additionally, Danada received accreditation in three specialty standards.
The accreditation effort was part of a multifaceted review of Danada's operations, launched after 34 volunteers signed a letter to the forest preserve district in November complaining of neglect of some horses by the staff and, in some cases, outright abuse.
Other volunteers later rushed to defend Danada, and the debate spilled over into several forest preserve commission meetings this spring. Some current and former volunteers also expressed concerns that the forest preserve's review of Danada -- including a volunteer survey -- lacked objectivity or wasn't conducted fairly.
Ultimately, the district's review of Danada included the volunteer survey, meetings with volunteers, an internal review by staff, and bringing in a veterinarian to assess the 25-horse herd. The vet told forest officials obesity is the biggest problem facing the horses, but there were no obvious signs of abuse.