Danish police, the municipality and Danish food authorities have begun an extensive operation at Viegård Stutteri in Skals (DEN), raiding the farm to find evidence of neglect and abuse as well as alleged dead horses buried.
The raid is the long awaited official intervention, demanded by the public to expose and end John Byrialsen's decade-long animal neglect, first in Poland and then continued in Denmark.
Ten Years of Neglect
For years animal welfare groups tried to stop the abuse at Viegaard stud, but Byrialsen always got away with the promise of better care. A total of 35 charges have been brought against him, but there were never sanctions nor horses seized.
In July 2023 a huge uproar arose on social media after whistleblower Tyrell Cotant posted new photos of emaciated and sick horses, which he took during his three-week stay at Viegaard from 16 February till 3 March 2023.
It led to a big campaign and demonstrations, driven by Stop Vanrøgt Af Dyr Bag Hegn and other dedicated animal lovers. Some people entered Byrialsen's property to gather evidence of the atrocities happening there. Photos of bones, wounds, and graves were being posted on social media.
Throughout the summer, animal welfare activists have demonstrated weekly in front of the stud farm and have criticized the police and municipality for not stepping in hard and fast.
The authorities finally mustered the courage, with the proper legal backing, to stage a huge, unannounced intervention.
On Wednesday morning 23 August 2023, the Central and West Jutland Police, in collaboration with specialists of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and Viborg Municipality, inspected several yards and fields that are part of Viegaard. Twelve locations were inspected.
"Together with the police, we dig in several places on the properties. It is first and foremost about finding out if horses have been buried without permission," said Hans Jørn Laursen, director of Technology and Environment in Viborg Municipality, at the start of the day.
In the afternoon a press conference was giving with Laursen and Christian Toftemark, deputy inspector at Central and West Jutland Police, in attendance.
Fifty Cadavers Dug Up, So Far
Witnesses saw trucks with 10 excavators enter the property where the digging began. Twenty-six cars arrived with approximately 80 people in them, working for Danish police, the municipality and Danish food authorities.
By the afternoon, it has been reported that cadavers of no less than 20 horses have been found, but later in the early evening TV2 reported that 50 dead horses had been excavated. The police did not want to confirm the exact number.
Flemming Kure Marker, veterinary manager for the Danish food authorities, stated that the dead horses must now be examined at the University of Copenhagen, which may be able to determine whether they died of malnutrition.
When the Animal Welfare Act has been violated, the official veterinarians and the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration's lawyers assess the seriousness of the violation. After this, it is the police who, together with the Prosecutor's Office, decide how the case should be prosecuted. In cases where immediate action is needed, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration will advise the police to give the owner a warrant. It may, for example, be necessary to treat a sick animal, where a practicing veterinarian must be called immediately.
Permission for burial has neither been sought nor granted. It is illegal in Denmark and a breach of the Environmental Protection Act. In addition, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, in collaboration with the police, checked 390 living horses on the different properties, according to TV2.