Rescued horses on brink of starvation
Three young horses on the brink of starvation were rescued last weekend from a frozen pasture along Snowmass Creek.
Local horse trainer Holly McLain said one of the horses, a 3-year-old mare, was so emaciated that her ribs, hips and backbone were all visibly sticking out from her torso. “She’s a skeleton. She has no muscle or fat left on her body,” she said.
The mare and her two companions, a 2-year-old gelding and a 6-year-old gelding, are recuperating at Half Moon Ranch, McLain’s boarding and training facility on Snowmass Creek.
By McLain’s account, it appears the horses had been left to fend for themselves since last fall, when their owner was deported to Mexico.
They had no water supply other than the creek and no food other than the sparse grasses they could dig up from under the snow. McLain reckons the horses left their water supply and crossed the pasture to a fence that parallels the road in a desperate attempt to find help.
They found that help in the form of Nicole Lewis, a client of McLain’s who noticed the sickly horses while driving up to Half Moon Ranch.
Lewis reportedly spent the next week trying to get the county’s animal control officer to move the horses to somewhere that they could be fed, watered and sheltered.
The pasture in question is located about a quarter-mile upstream from the intersection of Snowmass Creek Road and Watson Divide Road. It is owned by a family that does not live in the area full time, according to Mike Gerbaz, who leases the land as a grazing area for his own horses.
The condition of the horses is a matter of dispute between McLain and Gerbaz.
Gerbaz, who owns and boards about 30 horses, doesn’t think the horses are in quite as bad shape as McLain is claiming.
“They’re thin, but they’ll be
OK,” he said. He wonders if she is trying to make things sound worse than they really are to drum up sympathy.
“Of course he says that,” McLain replied. “They’re going to be OK because we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they are OK.”
She said local veterinarian A.J. Games told her the mare had only about a week to live.
Gerbaz said the horses ended up on the pasture he leases last fall, for what was supposed to be a temporary basis.
They belonged to an Hispanic man named Conrado Gonzales, a local ranch manager who was deported after getting into trouble with the law last summer. The three horses that were rescued last week had been at Aspen Valley Ranch with two other horses that belonged to Gonzales, according to accounts from both Gerbaz and McLain.
Once he found himself in jail with a case pending before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Gonzales called Gerbaz and asked if he would care for them. Gerbaz agreed to take care of two he had sold to Gonzales, but not the other three.
“I told him he could stick the other three horses in the Old Snowmass pasture, but I couldn’t winter them,” he said. “He told me that he had made arrangements for someone to come and get them out.”
But that never happened.
When Lewis spotted the horses last week, they were enduring their second severe cold snap of the winter. McLain reported that Lewis began trying to contact ReRe Baker, the county’s animal control officer, and urge her to remove the horses from the pasture.
Neither Lewis nor Baker could be reached before press time, so it remains unclear exactly why the horses remained in the pasture for several days.
“She didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with the animal control people,” McLain said.
On Friday, McLain said she began a day-long effort to get permission to remove the horses and bring them to her stables, and on Saturday morning they were relocated to Half Moon Ranch.
McLain said the horses have been drinking large amounts of water, eating hay and undergoing treatment by Dr. Games. Once they’ve put on some weight, their diet will be expanded to include grains, alfalfa and oils.
A fund has been set up at Alpine Bank in Basalt to help cover the cost of their recovery and boarding.
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Pitkin County Health Department has put together a “Frequently Asked Questions” guideline for its new Traveler Affidavit Requirement, which starts Dec. 14.