inewsource reporter Brad Racino interviews Michelle Knuttila, founder and board member of HiCaliber Horse Rescue in Valley Center, on March 2, 2018. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

After inewsource broke the story Wednesday about HiCaliber Horse Rescue facing allegations of animal cruelty and fraud, we were flooded with emails, phone calls and online messages from supporters and critics of the Valley Center nonprofit.

Web traffic on the story shows it has reached readers in all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

We are continuing to pursue multiple angles on this story and toured the HiCaliber ranch on Friday with its founder, Michelle Knuttila. She defends her business model and contends she uses the legal practice of euthanizing rescued horses by gunshot only when a horse is suffering and beyond treatment.

“If you watch what happens to them when they get sold off to the Mexican rodeos, this is not the worst thing that can happen to them if they’re euthanized,” Knuttila said. “Death is not the worst thing. There are so many other things waiting for these poor animals out there. And why everyone is focused on the euthanasia of it — I could set my sights on simply going to auction and buying them to euthanize every single one and it would still be kinder than what waits them across the border.”

Knuttila’s critics are vocal and include former HiCaliber volunteers. They have filed complaints about her and HiCaliber with the California Attorney General’s Office and Federal Trade Commission. At least six agencies are looking into allegations against HiCaliber, including the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and California Veterinary Medical Board.

Volunteers on Friday spoke highly of both their experience over the past few years at the ranch and of Knuttila. Even more praised the rescue operation through emails, recalling positive experiences adopting and fostering HiCaliber’s horses.  

As inewsource is vigorously reporting this story, we encourage you to reach out to us. If you’ve had an experience with HiCaliber — good or bad — email us at

A horse peeks through a fence on the property of HiCaliber Horse Rescue on March 2, 2018. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)
Michelle Knuttila, founder and board member of HiCaliber Horse Rescue in Valley Center, shows reporters around the property on March 2, 2018. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

On the air:

inewsource coverage of HiCaliber on CBS8 and KPBS. Both are our news partners.

(TV) CBS8 News at 11 p.m.
(Radio) KPBS Midday Edition
(TV) KPBS Evening Edition

Brad Racino was the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in...