The truck sped up, dragging Trigger behind it as the horse thrashed its head and flailed its legs, trying in vain to resist the moving vehicle.
It drove another hundred yards, the length of a football field.
The incident — which occurred in Grand County, Colo., a rural mountainous region west of Denver — was captured on video and posted to Facebook on Sunday, when it elicited widespread indignation and a chorus of calls for an animal abuse investigation.
On the video, the first version of which was apparently uploaded then deleted by the owner, a woman filming says of the horse: “This [expletive] refuses to leave the ranch, so John’s pulling him across, cause he’s being a douchebag.”
On Tuesday, authorities announced that Trigger’s owners, John and Amber Saldate, have been charged with one count each of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor in Colorado.
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said the case has “caused much public concern.”
“We have received countless social media contacts, emails phone calls, I cant even begin to put a number on how many there were,” he said at a news conference.
Schroetlin said police are pursuing a search warrant that will allow them to seize Trigger and transfer it to the Colorado Humane Society. The Saldates have other horses, too, but Schroetlin said investigators are focused on Trigger.
A veterinarian has checked Trigger and “did not note any obvious trauma,” Schroetlin said. But the horse was “tender” and the vet gave it pain medication, he said.
Schroetlin said he understands the clamorous public interest in the case, but asked onlookers to be patient while authorities continue their investigation.
“Cases involving kids and animals are obviously very emotional,” he said, adding, “We need to do our part of the investigation which sometimes takes a little bit longer than what the community is hoping.”
Matt Karzen, the 14th Judicial District Attorney, said in a statement that his office’s “phone lines and email accounts are getting covered up with inquiries from people interested in the case.”
Before the charges were filed, a woman who identified herself as Trigger’s owner spoke anonymously to CBS4, a Denver television news station. Off-camera, she can be heard telling the reporter that, “I’ve lost my job over this, I’ve upset a lot of people. I made our horse go through something that he shouldn’t have. I was wrong.”
“You make one bad decision sometimes," she said, "and it can destroy your life.”