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Owner of Ranch for Unwanted Horses Disputes Allegations That They Have Been Mistreated

October 11, 2002|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine a wave of inspectors showing up at a hospital--and accusing the owners of wrongdoing because there are sick patients inside. According to James Hardie, that's roughly what's happened at his Inland Empire ranch that specializes in rescuing abandoned, unwanted, old and sick horses.

State and county officials have a different view. Neither the Riverside County Department of Animal Services nor the state Department of Agriculture would comment Thursday on the case. But in recent days, county officials have alleged that horses found by inspectors on the 13.6-acre ranch owned by Hardie and his wife were in terrible condition. Some horses' ribs were poking out, they have said, and others could not walk.

So far, no charges have been filed, but Hardie said he and his wife, Deborah Loren Hardie, anticipate that inspectors will pursue a neglect case against them.

The Hardies say they have been rescuing sick, elderly and unwanted horses since 1995, starting informally.

In 2000, the Hardies decided to form an official nonprofit agency.

Legally, the ranch was allowed to house 67 horses. But "we couldn't say no," Hardie said. "We couldn't say no to a horse."

So the stock kept building up--and at one point the Hardies and their small team of volunteers had 103 horses on the ranch.

They quickly ran out of money. Hardie acknowledges he was in over his head but insists the horses were "not mistreated."

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