Starved and on brink of death, dumped horse gets new hope from Modesto community

Bryen Camden has seen the worst of humanity. The 30-year-old combat veteran served in the United States military for more than six years before he was injured in Iraq.

But a young stallion found dumped in Laird Park late Monday night at the brink of death is another level of cruelty, Camden said.

“There’s just no excuse for this, there’s too many rescues, there’s too many people (who would help),” he said. “This is just sad and sick and just unacceptable.”

River Maximus, named for where he was found — near the San Joaquin River in the park — and for the steadfast horse in the Disney movie “Tangled,” was spotted by two fishermen after they heard him.

“One of them was out there fishing with his son and he heard the commotion, heard the horse screaming and saw the people dragging him off the trailer with a rope,” Camden said. “When they got over there, they said he lifted his head up and they knew he was actually alive.”

Cesar Garcia, who was fishing in the area, called police and posted pictures and a video to a local Facebook group, which created an uproar within the community. Soon, someone drove down with their truck and trailer, an Animal Control worker showed up, and Bobbie Carne, an independent animal rescue worker, arrived to help Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies get the horse up and to the vet safely.

“It wasn’t easy; he was so weak he couldn’t get on his feet,” Carne said. “If that father and son didn’t call right away, he would have laid there for hours and he would have died.”

River’s first night at the vet was difficult; he was severely underweight and dehydrated with several cuts around his body. But with dedicated care and careful rehabilitation, the staff at Taylor Vet have given River new hope.

“He’s looking so much better,” Camden said. “He’s dropping his head and he’s comfortable. He is getting tired, though.”

Camden planned on taking River to his new home on his Riverbank ranch Wednesday, but after discussing the horse’s condition with the vet, they decided to wait until Thursday morning to make the move. Once there, Camden plans on keeping River in a private stall for a few days to allow him to adjust before introducing him to the other horses on his property.

As someone who teaches riding lessons to kids, Camden hopes River will one day teach the next generation of horseback riders.

“He’s going to see me every single day, multiple times a day,” Camden said. “He’s got a long road ahead, but just from between Monday night to today, if any horse could do it, he can.”

Carne, who works every day to rescue neglected animals off the streets, said River is just one out of hundreds.

“It’s kind of become an epidemic where people are dumping their animals they can’t take care of,” she said. “This is a typical thing for me, unfortunately.”

Carne said she has no idea why someone would even think about neglecting or abusing an animal because of the steps they can take to prevent the cruelty.

“They can take the animal to a shelter, leave it there before the abuse, the starvation, the neglect, even begins,” she said.

But fear of criminal prosecution under California Penal Code 597, where any person convicted of abusing an animal can be imprisoned for up to three years in county jail or fined $20,000 for animal cruelty, which is a felony, leads some to anonymously dump — with hopes of skirting the law.

“These people need to be held liable and responsible for their actions, but the most important part is dealing with the animal first, and then the legal stuff next,” Carne said.

“The community has really stepped up for this horse,” she said. “But I just wish they never had to.”

If you would like to make a contribution to help River recover, contact Carne at, or visit Taylor Veterinary at 1231 W. Taylor Road, Turlock, 95382.

Mackenzie Shuman is a summer news intern for The Modesto Bee. She originally hails from Colorado Springs, Colorado, but goes to school at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication where she is studying Journalism with a minor in Political Science.
Support my work with a digital subscription