A rodeo competitor is mourning her beloved horse — and seeks answers — after the horse suffered a fatal shooting injury in November.
On Nov. 17, Kayellyn Hall’s grandfather discovered her retired rodeo horse, J.K. Tonto, had been shot. The horse is believed to have been injured by hunters during the first weekend of deer-hunting season, the Hall family and Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman told the Star-Herald.
A lot of hunting is done in the area surrounding the ranch, located northeast of Minatare and 3 miles east of Lake Minatare. It had been the first weekend of deer hunting, but no one contacted the family and told them that the horse had been injured. Generations of the Hall family have lived at the ranch for more than 100 years and are known to many familiar with the area.
“We were not home that weekend,” Kayellyn Hall’s mother, Krisa Hall said, noting that she and her husband had been attending the Big Ten Rodeo Championships where Kayellyn and her sister competed when her father-in-law discovered the horse’s injury. “The horse had been out to pasture and Kayellyn’s grandfather noticed when he went out to check on the mares that J.K. was standing off by himself. He didn’t come over.”
The man checked on the horse, finding that J.K. had been shot. One of the horse’s shoulders had been shattered, a fatal injury for the horse. The family had to make an agonizing decision to have the horse euthanized.
“He (J.K.) couldn’t walk,” Krisa Hall said. “We don’t know how long he stood there, in pain.”
Kayellyn Hall, who has owned the horse since she was 7 years old, said it’s difficult to talk about J.K.’s death without crying. The thought that her painted American Quarter Horse may have suffered overnight or even the entire weekend adds to her grief.
“He was my first horse. The first horse that was mine, and only mine,” Kayellyn Hall said, saying that she remembers wanting a painted horse and her grandfather breeding the family’s mares with a painted stud to get her the horse that she wanted. She learned to rodeo on the horse. She competed with him in junior high and high school. Today, she has set her sights on winning a national rodeo title.
“Rodeo is my life and he is the horse that got that started,” she said. “He started that dream. ... I won my first belt buckle on him and I’ve been addicted ever since.”
When she left for the University of Nebraska — Lincoln for college, Kayellyn Hall said, she couldn’t fathom that she’d never see the horse that she says acted as her babysitter when she was a youngster. She’d even say he was her best friend.
“He will always be my favorite horse. I didn’t think that when I left for college, I’d never get to see him again. It is hard, not being able to say goodbye like I would have wanted.”
Born and raised on the Hall ranch, J.K. had only been 15 years old. Kayellyn had dreams that one day, her own children would ride J.K. Kayellyn and Krisa Hall describe him as the perfect “all-around horse.” J.K. had been so good-natured that he even competed in national rodeo finals with strangers riding him, such as rodeo competitors traveling from Australia or Hawaii who couldn’t bring their own horses to competition.
“He had a lot of drama queen. He just had a lot of personality,” Krisa Hall said.
The horse “made sure everyone knew when he was around,” Kayellyn Hall said. “He loved attention. He loved to be petted.”
The family would like to have the mystery of J.K.’s death solved.
“I wish that someone would have come forward,” Krisa Hall said of the horse’s injuries. “If it was an accident, accidents happen, but it’s hard to believe that someone didn’t know it (the shooting) happened.”
Though the outcome wouldn’t have been different, Kayellyn Hall said, the person who injured the horse could have helped alleviate his suffering.
“It upsets me to think that I do not know how long he was injured, that he might have thought we left him to stand there the entire weekend in pain,” she said. “The person who injured him could have at least had the courtesy to let us know he had been injured so that he didn’t have to suffer needlessly.”
The Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the horse’s shooting and are interested in any tips that the public may have, Overman said. Investigators are handling the shooting as a felony crime. Known persons who were hunting in the area have been questioned and evidence has been gathered. Investigators are interested in contacting others that may have been hunting in the area or other information that helps solve the case.
Anyone with information on J.K.’s shooting can contact the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department at 308-436-6667, or tips can be emailed or texted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons can also call Scotts Bluff County Crime Stoppers and be eligible for a cash reward at 308-632-STOP (7867).