Emotions flare over horse beating incident

By on August 11, 2016

ROBERT DEVONSHIRE JR. | LNP Correspondent The Strasburg Rail Road is seeking a waiver to not blow their whistle at every crossing in an effort to stop spooking horses.


By Patrick Burns

An Ephrata Township 20-year-old went to District Judge Tony Russell’s office Monday to pay fines relating to an Aug. 2 incident which elicited social media criticism and rage often directed squarely on the local Plain Community.

A sensational slant to the story, which proliferated in the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, and even in the European press, began with “Amish man” Marvin Sensenig’s roadside beating of a horse that was later euthanized.

The public chastised Sensenig, who is not Amish, after readers viewed photos released by the Ephrata Police Department of him kicking and punching his overheated horse after it collapsed.

Many questioned what they perceived as a “slap on the wrist” penalty for the Mennonite man who on Monday pleaded guilty and paid $754.50 in fines and fees on two counts of animal cruelty charges.

Police said Sensenig had “used one horse to pull a farm wagon with a burden too great for a single horse.”

Outrage on Facebook even led to an online petition “diligently and passionately ask[ing] the Chief of Police, William “Bill” Harvey of Ephrata Pa., the Mayor Ralph Mowen, and Governor Tom Wolf, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Humane Society of Pennsylvania to do a complete and intense investigation where no stone is left unturned.”

The online petition to “help bring justice to this poor horse who had no voice” had drawn more than 19,000 signatures at the Ephrata Review’s press time Wednesday morning.

While it’s fair to say the “people” have spoken on social media about this tragedy, the Plain Community’s customs and culture precludes them from engaging in discussion publicly.

So the Ephrata Review reached out to Steven M. Nolt, Senior Scholar, Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

There appears to be a perception, based on social media comments, of a morality-dilemma which suggests the Plain farming community’s detached and even beastly treatment of animals conflicts intensely with the compassion for animals by the general public.

“In my experience this incident is not representative of how horse-and-buggy folks in Pennsylvania &tstr; or other states &tstr; relate to their animals,” Nolt wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

He acknowledged that there are “sad” cases like the one in Ephrata, “but I would not say they are typical of the 6,000 Old Order Mennonites or 35,000 Amish who live in Lancaster County.”

Nolt said criticism is warranted and wouldn’t downplay Sensenig’s actions but noted it’s unfair to paint the Plain community as comprehensively cruel. He responded to the online petitioner’s charge that “For too many years the abuse of animals by the Amish in Lancaster County has gone unanswered for and unpunished.”

“I do not want to excuse or downplay what apparently happened on Aug. 2, but I am saying that, in perspective, it is not typical and I’m sure other Plain people looking on are disturbed or embarrassed to the degree that the story became a blanket indictment of Plain people in general,” he said.

While Old Order folks interact with animals on a regular basis, and have perhaps an unsentimental view of animals, Nolt also pointed the impracticality – from an economical/business standpoint – of purposefully harming farm animals.

“Setting aside the ethical issues &tstr; which I’m not saying we should &tstr; but simply from a financial standpoint, losing a horse is a significant financial loss and I’m sure the young man’s parents are not pleased,” he said. “Again, I don’t mean to downplay the ethical in favor of the purely economic.”

In the end, Nolt said Plain community farmers “assume that work animals should be worked and placing a horse in a harness is not cruel.”

“From their farm background they make what they see as practical and economic decisions about veterinary costs and other matters, that may differ from that of a suburban family that considers its pet cat a member of the family,” he said.

That does not mean that Old Order folks condone beating animals, nor does it mean that “sometimes work animals can be and sometimes are over-worked,” Nolt said.

“But in my experience, such situations do not reflect the stated values of the Amish and Old Order Mennonites who are the first to acknowledge that they do not always live up to their ideals at all times,” he said.

Nolt referred to a well-known (recently deceased) Amish minister near Narvon whose essays were widely read in Amish and Old Order Mennonite circles, who wrote about the importance of caring for horses and domestic farm animals in several of his essays.

“In one he said ‘[We must] remember that the animals that share the earth with us are flesh and blood like we are. They have feelings of thirst and hunger, tiredness and pain just like we have’,” he quoted.

Nolt pointed to another essay which noted the “disgrace” of neighbors who witness a Plain person beating a horse or when a team is driven too fast “in obvious distress.”

The essay Nolt mentioned continued: “Such things should not happen, he emphasized, whether anyone is watching or not.”

“Of course, the fact that he wrote on this topic reveals that he knew not all of his readers practiced what he believed they should,” Nolt said. “Still, in my experience, his sentiments, are much closer to the norm than what we saw last week.”

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for the The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.


Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

One Comment

  1. sally

    May 6, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    We’re not talking about the entire Amish community here. We’re talking about this one individual and why he wasn’t given a sentence that fit the crime! A $700 fine for beating a horse to death is inappropriate! He deserved a larger fine and jail time! I suppose he is back to overloading and beating horses by now.

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