Alto, N.M., herd rounded up

/ In The News, News
Photo by Melissa Babcock

Photo by Melissa Babcock

Horses cross New Mexico Highway 48 near Ruidoso, N.M.

As published by the Ruidoso News

Ruidoso, N.M. – About a dozen “wild” mares and their foals were hauled away from the Alto area Friday in response to a complaint lodged by a resident of Enchanted Forest, who contended they were a nuisance, posed a danger to traffic and were damaging property.

Upset neighbors and advocates for the herd gathered outside the area where Caroline McCoy and her adjoining property owner had corralled the horses. They wanted to work out a solution to her problem and halt the removal of the herd, but the process continued.

New Mexico Livestock Board Executive Director Ray Baca was on hand, as was District 20 supervisor Troy Patterson and inspector George Mendoza. The neighbors and many others in the Ruidoso area called the livestock board and the governor’s office to lodge complaints. Several neighbors who said they enjoyed having the horses visit, questioned why the “wild” herd is not protected by federal law as are the mustangs and burros on Bureau of Land Management property. In New Mexico, these types of horses are treated as stray animals that probably came off the Mescalero Apache Reservation 20 to 30 years ago, state officials said. When reported as a nuisance, they become the responsibility of the livestock board.

However, a local attorney said he was contacted by a neighbor and is looking into the possibility of filing for an injunction based on whether the board has authority over “wild” animals, questioning the definitions of wild and estray.

The stallion of the herd, who apparently was a major part of the problem for McCoy, was not among the horses corralled and removed, because McCoy said she was unable to secure him on her property, a requirement of the process. Those watching the removal said he was “going crazy” nearby as his mares and foals were loaded and hauled away.

The horses taken will never run wild again, Baca agreed. Once they are “in the system,” they will be confined for at least five days for examination by a veterinarian, checked for brands, microchips and other signs of ownership, then put up for auction on the livestock board’s webpage dealing with lost, found and estray horses.

“I think the biggest thing I am looking at right now is that we examine these horses for tattoos or brands, or microchips or such to make sure they don’t belong to a rightful owner,” Baca said. “And if an owner comes forward, they have a right to them, of course, by providing proof of ownership.

“We’re going to take them to a facility where we can work with them closely and have our veterinarian look at them, as well as our inspectors.”

He estimated about a dozen horses were involved.

“We will publicize them for five days and people can come forward and bid on them at that point,” Baca said. “The public bid is held on our website.”

The exact location where the horses will be confined until they are bought had not been designated when they left, but later in the day, the destination was pinpointed as Santa Fe. A herd advocate said Mendoza said photographs of the horses will be posted on the board’s website Monday.

“Have them contact me and I will let them know where they are,” Baca said for people who want to inspect the horses before placing a bid. “We have our state veterinarian check them for health and whoever the winning bidder is can retrieve the animal, claim their property. We will microchip them and we will keep a record of that.” The horses once purchased must be treated like any other domesticated equine and cannot be released back into the wild, he emphasized.

“The major concern and problem now is that we find a safe place for the horses that has adequate care and facility for them,” he said.

McCoy said she and her husband have been dealing with the horses since they moved to Enchanted Forest from Nogal a year ago. When they arrived, fences had been broken down and she repaired and improved the arrangement.

“(An adjoining property owner), who helped the livestock board, wanted them penned because they were destroying his property and making substantial inroads into ours,” she said. “I’m an older person (77) riding my mare and she becomes so upset with all of these horses. When I’m riding and come across them or my mare is in heat and there is a stud out there, it’s dangerous for me.”

The horses also eliminate in the driveway, eat her flowers and put hoof prints in damp ground, she said.

“But more than that, these are not wild horses, not the romantic mustang,” McCoy said. “These are abandoned horses just turned loose in the mountains and now the herd has separated and the one herd is up over on the mountain – a great place for them to be. Unfortunately, many residents treat (the removed herd) like deer, which is really illegal to feed, and put out grain. They say they will eat out of their hands, which they will. But when we were working with them this morning, these are not horses that are gentle by any means. If someone didn’t know what they were doing, they could get hurt.”

More than that, however, is the danger to drivers when the horses cross New Mexico Highway 48, she said. “I’ve seen people hit one of the mares once. I know of people, not with this herd, killed by horses on the highway. It’s a very dangerous situation,” she said.

McCoy also contends that in-breeding isn’t healthy for the stock.

“That stallion has his stamp on every one of the mares and again on their colts,” she said. “My horses are racing around crashing against the fences and hurting themselves. My mare has banged up her face because she’s so excited. It just doesn’t work.”

McCoy emphasized that the complaint also came from her adjoining property owner who helped load the horses, but he could not be reached for confirmation by press time.

By being rounded up, the horses will have a chance for a good home, McCoy said. “We talked about that immediately, and they will be advertised and they are legally bound to do that,” she said of the livestock board. “I know people ready to bid on them.”

But based on an incident in 2014, involving Rock Star, a horse from the herd that was penned as a nuisance by a new resident in the area and was sold at auction for $42.59 by a business already charged with several counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, a positive ending isn’t guaranteed. Paperwork indicated he probably was sent to slaughter, although McCoy said she was told by livestock board officials that he was not destroyed.

Lynda Blaney, who now lives in Colorado, went through an adoption of a filly from the herd after the Rock Star incident in 2014. The horse turned out to be a great addition to the family and has since given birth to her own daughter, she said. During the uproar over Rock Star’s fate, Blaney and other advocates met with livestock board officials including Baca and Patterson about being able to receive automatic notifications on horses and the procedures to adopt. They complained that the procedure in place when Rock Star was picked up failed to allow them the chance to bid on the horse and save him.

Alto resident Russell Perrin said his family enjoyed having the herd in the area and watching horses that he didn’t have to feed. They didn’t eat the flowers like the elk and deer, he said. They just trimmed the grass.