While a dozen or more members of a horse herd that roamed the Alto area are confined to fenced pens awaiting their fate, individuals who voiced support for the horses in the past seemed to have split into different sides with different goals.
Saturday, several of the original supporters who sounded the alarm after the horses were rounded up by a homeowner and later hauled to Santa Fe by the New Mexico Livestock Board, and five who signed on as official caretakers of the horses when they were returned, called a meeting to discuss the equines’ future.
But when members of the Wild Horse Observers Association arrived, the story gets hazy with both sides contending the other was disruptive and intimidating. WHOA is a nonprofit Placitas-based organization that filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from selling the herd at auction.
Ruidoso Police Chief Darren Hooker said his officers were on stand-by to ensure no major problems developed at Wingfield Park in Ruidoso. Although a permit for use of the park pavilion had been obtained by Barbara Yates, one of the meeting organizers, the individuals decided to regroup at a local real estate office.
“I told the officer that our message is not about fighting, our message is about truth and facts,” Yates said Monday. “So we decided to leave to help the officers keep the peace.”
She emphasized that most of the local people at the meeting were not members of any organization, but individuals who still are committed to the welfare of the horses.
One of the major criticisms by those at the relocated meeting was their contention that WHOA is not contributing financially toward the physical care of the horses despite collection jars in the county stating that purpose. They urged that donations for the horses be paid directly to Little Bear Feed in Capitan, where an account is established. They said if anyone is concerned about past donations, they can request the charities investigation arm of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to look into the finances.
Another criticism is their contention that a resolution is needed to ensure the future care of the horses, who now are in limbo awaiting a judge’s ruling on a motion for summary judgment in favor of WHOA and a motion by the state attorney general’s office on behalf of the livestock board that when WHOA filed the suit, it had no standing on the issue, because it did not have a county resident on its board.
Yates, Melissa Babcock and Robbi Davis among others point to an agreement by the Livestock Board that depending on the judge’s ruling, caretaker signers for the horses would have first option to adopt and that any other applicants would be screened. If any horses from a roaming herd are penned in the future, the board would consult the community before taking action, an element missing in the original situation.
Yates noted that while an informal similar agreement was struck before, the new agreement would have force of law with court action.
Ari Biernoff, the lawyer who represents the livestock board from the attorney general’s office and was at the meeting, said that the agreement was worked out when he met earlier in the year with the nine signers who are responsible for the horses while they are confined.
The individuals at the meeting seemed convinced the horse herd could not be released to roam the Alto area again. Yates explained that “public land” where the horses could be “allowed” is practically nonexistent and does not include the national forest. Defining the term “public land” was one of the issues Bryant wanted to research before ruling on the two motions, she pointed out.
“We all love these horses and want them to stay on our mountain and be under the local care and control of the community, because that’s who been watching out for them all along,” Yates said. “The livestock board has said they are not interested in rounding up wild horses. That’s not their job. But if (WHOA) keeps us in court as (WHOA president) Patience O’Dowd has done in Placitas, these horses are in legal limbo and it’s not fair to them. They are living breathing creatures and to me that is cruel. I’m not saying they are not getting proper care, but they can’t halter break them, they can’t even do simple things like farrier care without all this drama and stress on the horses. It’s not right.
“We all were told 120 days (and the horses’ fate would be settled) and it is way past that.”
O’Dowd stated her position in a prepared statement submitted to the Ruidoso News:
“The community of Ruidoso and Alto are overwhelmingly united for the freedom of these majestic wild horses. This is clear from the over 94,000 signatures for freedom, and wild horse tourism, also from the 95 (percent) of the Enchanted Forest community in a door to door petition filed with the court. This support for freedom also includes three of (the) signers, one being a life-long horse professional as well as WHOA/Wild Horses of Lincoln County experts.
“All money raised for the Alto horses from within the community and from outside the community has been spent, and will be spent, on these horses for their care and their freedom. There are no salaried WHOA board members. WHOA has spent over $15,000 for feed and care of the horses and continues as able while the opposition increases costs by delay. This documentation (is) available.
“WHOA has not delayed the courts. The courts scheduling order stated that motions should be filed by April 10, 2017, and WHOA respectfully filed its last motion for Summary Judgement on that date. However, since that date, the NMLB has filed four motions, all long after the requested end date for motions. Each motion requires a minimum of six weeks to allow both sides to respond, and allows for three extensions for each side. Hence, each motion can delay court resolution for two months or even more. Each motion also increases costs for attorney's fees for freedom and hay costs for internment. WHOA has respected the courts scheduling order.
“WHOA has not changed sides and has stayed true to the Mission Statement, which is freedom. WHOA has replied to the motion to dissolve the Temporary Restraining Order and adopt out all the horses. This is a question for the courts and the experts. WHOA opposes this motion.”
Although one herd's ultimate disposition is unresolved, at least two other horse herds still roam the Alto and Ski Run Road area.