On Friday, I put up a post about Wayne Kirk, the guy who got the contract to run the city’s new Texas Horse Park, in the Trinity River Corridor (update: the park will be co-run with Equest). Mostly I offered a bunch of details about the guy (accusations about GHB, funny Twitter presence, etc., etc.) that made me scratch my head. Today we venture into more serious territory with some troubling allegations about how the guy does business.
I learned about a letter sent by a woman named Harley Cozewith to every member of the Dallas City Council. Cozewith is a former director of visitor services for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and a current part-time employee of the museum. And she’s a horse person. Last week, Cozewith wrote the following to the councilmembers:
As a Dallas resident, competitive equestrian, and current Equest volunteer, I am truly and deeply concerned about Wayne Kirk and River Ranch managing the new horse park. Kirk’s reputation in the DFW equestrian community is frightening. In fact, he is persona non grata at many well regarded equestrian centers in the DFW area. One equestrian contact, a trainer, competitor, and farm owner, worked for Wayne Kirk at one time and reported when I asked her about him:
- Starving dogs in the back that he kept in cages, if they died, fine
- Horses that “pulled their weight” as trail horses did fine. But any that didn’t were sent to “the ranch” in West Texas and who knows… if they ever came back they were extremely thin
- He is ALL about the money. Paid people nothing and I paid for a horse and a dog vet care out of my own pocket. If they got sick or hurt, they got taken to “the ranch” or turned out in the back to starve.
- Horses that pulled their weight for camp and trail rides got fed and got their feet done. But as soon as they dropped weight, went lame, or whatever … they moved on down the road. And he’s really weird about the horses … Like, hoarderish. I rode this really nice Thoroughbred gelding there and took care of him, made sure he got fed, got his teeth floated. I knew when I left it would go down hill fast. I begged to buy him. He was 25 years old! No go. I heard later that he went “to the ranch” and died.
- He also used to keep 5-6 horeses in stalls all the time. They only got out for breeding. They were NUTS. He bred all the mares every year.
- Horses are totally disposable to him.
A consummate horse person and professional barn manager in the Wilmer area that I have known for years had this to say: “I knew as soon it was announced that he was the one that was going to run it that they were doomed.”
It is also of great concern that the City of Dallas would consider entering into a 20+ year contract. What kind of responsible business does that? At maximum, a contract of this nature should be 3-5 years. It could certainly contain an automatic renewal but not be without an ironclad cancellation clause. Particularly with grave concerns about the manager’s integrity, why would the City enter in to a contract of such length?
Equestrian pursuits are by their very nature potentially risky for staff and riders as well as notoriously difficult to manage with financial success. The last thing the City needs on the outset of such a venture is a poor choice of management and a poor contract, both of which could leave the City exposed to damaging PR.
I am so excited about having the Horse Park in our back yard and want it to succeed. I plan to be involved as an Equest volunteer. I already volunteer at their Wylie facility. I’m hoping you can assist in making sure this project is not a disaster and that no people or horses are harmed or worse.
Many thanks for all the good work you do.
I talked with Cozewith, and I spoke with the person she quoted in her letter. That person has worked in the horse business in Dallas for 20 years and worked for Kirk about a decade ago, at a place called the Frisco Horse Park. The bullet points above are the person’s recollection from that time. The person asked that I preserve the person’s anonymity because the horse community is a small and sometimes “illogical” one (the person’s word), and even though the person suspected that most would agree with the assessment of Kirk, the person’s business could be adversely affected by backlash. I emailed and left a message this morning for Kirk at his Storybook Ranch and have not yet heard back. I’ll update this post if I do.