Exercising their authority as caretakers of the U.S. wild horse population, Bureau of Land Management officers confiscated three formerly wild mustangs from their adoptive owners in Cortez last week after allegations of inhumane treatment and severe neglect.
The mustangs, formerly part of the Spring Creek Basin wild horse herd in Disappointment Valley north of Dove Creek, were willingly surrendered by Jay and Wendy Williams on Wednesday, Sept. 19, after law enforcement confronted the couple over the desperate condition of the equines.
“The sheriff’s office received a report of horses that were being treated inhumanely and investigated the situation,” said Shannon Borders, the BLM’s public affairs specialist for the Southwest District. “The owners went ahead and gave those horses back to us and they are in BLM possession.”
The horses, a three-year-old stallion, three-year-old mare and four-year-old mare, were adopted by the Williamses on Sept. 24, 2011, after a BLM-sponsored roundup of the local herd. The roundup, completed over Sept. 16, 17 and 18 of last year, gathered 53 horses off of 22,000 acres of a wild horse management area deep in the heart of Disappointment Valley. After the gather, 25 horses were made available to the public through an adoption auction at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.
Calls were placed to local law enforcement last week expressing concern over the well being of the horses adopted by the Williamses. The horses were found in “horrific shape,” according to TJ Holmes, president of the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, who documents the Spring Creek herd and maintains a blog about the horses.
“The horses, particularly (the three-year-old mare) are skeletal,” Holmes said in an email to the Journal.
The condition of the horses was assessed on site based on the Henneke Body Condition Scale, which assigns a numerical score to body condition, from 1, “poor,” to 9, “extremely fat.” The stallion and four-year-old mare scored a 2 on the scale, indicating the horses were emaciated. The three-year-old mare scored a 1, noting extreme emaciation.
“The horses were in bad shape,” Borders said. “They certainly needed some sort of intervention.”
Close to a year after the roundup and adoption, the Williamses were still responsible to the BLM for the condition of the horses. According to BLM regulations, when a mustang is adopted following a herd roundup, final title papers are withheld from adoptive owners for one year. During that year, the horses and owners’ premises are subject to at least one inspection.
“In a year, BLM is required to do an inspection of the horses to ensure health and wellbeing of the horses,” Borders said. “We do that to make sure these horses that have been taken off the range are cared for in their adoptive homes. These horses had been inspected once and were determined to be healthy. The final inspection and final paperwork would have taken place this month.”
Borders said she could not comment on the reasons behind the neglect of the horses. Efforts to contact the Williamses for comment were unsuccessful.
The horses have been cared for by BLM officers, local volunteers and veterinarians for the past week and a half at the Dolores Public Lands Office. Borders said the change in the mustangs over that time period has been remarkable.
“There is definitely a difference in body condition just within a week, they are responding really well,” she said. “The vet has been out a couple of times and they have put together a plan on how to get them back on track without causing any issues, such as colic or something like that. It seems the vet is confident they will recover from this.”
In an email to the Journal, Holmes said those who have an interest in the Spring Creek herd are thankful for the quick reaction by the BLM and the effort made to return the mustangs to a healthy condition.
Once BLM officials are confident the horses are healthy, they will either be adopted out once again or moved to a short-term holding facility.
Borders emphasized the BLM has not been made aware of any other similar situations with horses adopted from the Spring Creek herd, and noted neglect at this level is rare among owners of adoptive mustangs.
“We always try and make it really clear that if they adopt and find themselves in a situation where they can’t care for the horses, we are willing to make accommodations and take the horses back to ensure safety and well-being,” she said. “We want to do what is in the best interest of these horses.”
According to Borders, BLM officers are still working to determine the proper course of action in the case and have not ruled out pursuing formal charges.