Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Despite Efforts of Animal Rescue Organization and Volunteers Fifteen Horses Died as Consequence of Fraud, Government Incompetence and Uncaring

When COVID-19 forced lock-down began on Roatan in March 2020, the horses at Beach Club Roatan turned from being a source of revenue to being a drain on resources. Government’s policies of forcing people to stay home affected the animals. 
Fifteen of the Fifty-five horses near Milton Bight almost starved to death as 
tourism industry collapsed and their owners left. 
Almost two years later, there are forty horses that are alive and slowly recovering. 
Yet their future is by no means certain. Their lives are held by a government institution with nameless officials and careless overseers. 
The equestrian adventure at Beach Club Roatan near Milton began as an idea, brought together by two Americans. Jack Mitchell and Bruce Beckner saw an opportunity for creating an attraction four cruise ship tourists. The Cruise ship tourist industry constantly needs new excursions and the Americans provided a tour that offered horseback riding on land and in water around a man-made cay. Mitchell was an amicable restaurateur from the US with a lot energy, ideas, and taste for good food. Beckner was a businessman with a checkered past. Jack Mitchell is now dead, and his business partner is in a US jail facing charges of fraud.

The venture began with an idea, selling horse ride tours to the cruise shippers. Back in 2018 the pair purchased horses, about 40 horses on the Honduran mainland and from horse owners around the island. Hefty American tourists paid $60 to ride a mix breed pack horse on a Roatan beach, into the water and around a man made cay.

Beach Club Roatan horses are slowly recovering from two bouts of starvation.

The heard multiplied and maxed out at 55 animals. The cruise ship tourists seemed content and wrote rave reviews on trip advisor. Then things started to fall apart.

Bruce Beckner was taken into custody at the San Pedro Sula airport in March 2019. It was discovered that he was wanted on a warrant by the Federal Court in New Mexico and was arrested by the Honduran authorities. Beckner, who sometimes used an alias “Bill Evans” had been living on Roatan since 2012 and had a Belizean passport. He was charged with bank fraud in the US and extradited to Albuquerque, New Mexico in April. Bruce Beckner was to face bank fraud charges, wire fraud charges and conspiracy charges. Beckner entered a not guilty plea.

Meantime drama on Roatan was taking its own course. Mitchell suffered a head trauma from a robbery in April 2019. Jack Mitchell passed away after his health deteriorated in December 2019. “Jack’s death was the beginning of the decline,” says Sherri Visker, who runs Roatan Operation Animal Rescue [ROAR], anon profit organization on the east side of Roatan.

Bruce Beckner’s son Cory Beckner took over managing of the operation after his father was deported. Cory Beckner did not answer Paya Magazine’s questions for this article.

2020 was a tough year for the Beach Club Roatan horses. By mid March there were zero tourists coming to Roatan and the horses turned from being economically sustainable to being a liability. A several thousand dollars a month liability.

In February 2021 Honduran authorities took possession of the Beckner property and animals. Beach Club Roatan had not only horses, but ducks, guinea hens and sheep.

Prosecutor against Organized Crime (Fescco) took over the Roatan Beach Club. Another Honduran government entity OABI took over the management of the property and leased it to a person from the mainland, Fernando Barahona. Barahona did not answer Paya Magazine’s request for information for the article.

With the passage of time the conditions of the animals, especially horses degraded.

The teeth marks are visible on the rounded marks of the thick pine boards.

At end of May 2021 a neighbor alerted Sherri Visker that they saw a dead horse at the Havana Beach property. In fact the horse was still alive, but barely.

It was late at night when Visker came to try to rescue the dying horse. “We tried to get boards under him to get him up,” remembers Visker. “But he just died that night.” In fact two horses from the original heard of 55 had died. The remaining were just skin and bones.

Visker reached out to her contacts in US and Canada and managed to raise $14,000 to get the horses feed and medical attention. ROAR had two paid workers that take care of the horses. After the horses were in better shape, ROAR stepped away.

Things should have gotten better for the horses, but they didn’t. Fernando B, the caretaker designated by OABI decided to use the horses as tourists attractions once again. The caretaker did not answer Paya Magazines request for an interview.

Over the summer of 2021 tourists were being given rides on the horses, but their condition was again deteriorating. “The horses are basically starving,” a tourist “Maxine B” wrote in July on tripadvisor about her experience. “I can’t imagine that this would be legal in any first world country.”

Indeed the horses were again becoming desperate for food, any food in fact. The situation from a few months back was repeating itself. The horses were so hungry that they ate the wooden boards of their feeding pens. The teeth marks are visible on the rounded marks of the thick pine boards.

“This formerly majestic place with a beautiful beach and beautiful horses to ride is no longer that. The beach is still beautiful, but the horses have had a prolonged period with no food and are severely malnourished,” wrote Amy B from Wilmington Delaware, in July 2021. “These horses need to heal and recover, not to give rides to tourists. Hopefully they will be back to their healthy, beautiful selves very soon.”

In December 2021 ROAR volunteers stepped in again to help the starving.

OABI nor their designated caretaker seemed not interested in the welfare of the horses. “They were just skin and bones,” says Sherri Visker. In December 2021 ROAR volunteers stepped in again to help the starving animals. This time their situation was much more serious. “The thing about horses is that it easy to let them get in trouble, but it takes a long time for them to recover,” said Juan Aguilar who has been working with the Havana Beach horses for four years. When he started the horses were well fed and working with tourists.

A dozen horses died over the next couple of weeks. “The up and down of weight weakened them. They are not meant to lose weight like that,” said Visker. Eleven more horses died. “Their systems can’t handle such up and down with weight,” says Visker holding up the tears. “We even lost two horses in a day.”

While horses fought for their lives government officials at OABI were ready to auction them off to the higher bidder. In fact, on January 14, 2022, OABI tried to auction all the animals together in one lot: horses, sheep, guinea hens and a duck.

It tried selling “50 horses, 40 chickens, 4 guinea hens, 12 roosters and one duck for Lps. 290,650. The photos of the horses presented to promote the auction showed well fed horses from before the hunger crisis. And when the auction was taking place seven of the 50 horses had died of hunger. OABI was not interested in such details.

“OABI, they are shameless. They have not paid a cent towards supporting the horses.”

Seven of the 50 horses mentioned by OABI were dead and the photos presented by OABI showed healthy horses, while the surviving were just skin and bones.

“OABI, they are shameless. They have not paid a cent towards supporting the horses,” describes the faceless government entity Aguilar. “There were people coming over and offering to buy four-five horses at a time, but OABI wants’ to sell all of them all at the same time,” said Aguilar.

Eventually the heard stabilized and in March there were 40 horses on the property. ROAR has made the horse feeding program available to volunteers. One of them in Marnie Pate, from Port Aransas, Texas who has been coming to help with the horses every time she visits Roatan. It is her fourth visit since May 2021 and Pate has even decided to sponsor one of the horses. For $120 a month she now sponsors one of the horses.

It takes two bales of hay to feed the remaining 40 horses. Each bale costs $40 dollars, but its shipping from San Pedro Sula and transport increased the price to almost $100 per bale. The horses also need bags of grain and vitamins and supplements to keep them healthy. Visker says that $2,500 a month is needed just to feed the horses.

Jimmy Cooper is another paid volunteer who comes to cut grass and take care of the horses five-six times-a-week. Cooper brings the horses hay, and some vitamins and grains. “The grass has more nutritional value as it is cut fresh,” says Karen Collins, a US expat volunteer who comes to Johnson Bight several time a week to feed the horses.

$2,500 a month is needed just to feed the horses.

At the end of March 2022 two of the horses that were in the worse shape are fed outside the pens so they can feed around the clock. There are also four horses that escaped the pens, and fended for themselves. These horses were in much better shape than their penned equestrians.

There are also four Spanish horses on the property. A stud, two mares and a colt. They are the only ones of the horses that were not castrated. They are bigger, and penned in a separate enclosure.

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