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Agency Monitors Wild Horses

June 25, 2003|Olga R. Rodriguez | Times Staff Writer

Santa Barbara County Animal Services officials are monitoring the daily feeding of more than 450 wild horses being kept on a Buellton ranch after receiving reports that some of the animals were undernourished.

The checks began two weeks ago after complaints from neighbors and veterinarians that rancher Slick Gardner was mistreating animals under his care.

The Dreamcatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary placed 127 wild horses on Gardner's ranch. The horses were among animals rounded up by the federal Bureau of Land Management in Montana.

Two weeks ago, Dreamcatcher removed 23 horses from Gardner's ranch because they were malnourished, said sanctuary director Barbara Clarke.

"Our horses were very thin," Clarke said. "To me, that was an indicator that the animals were not being fed."

Gardner, who would not comment on the allegations, is embroiled in a financial dispute with the animal sanctuary over fees for the care of the animals, Clarke said.

Earlier this year, Gardner brought 250 wild horses seized by the federal government in Nevada to his ranch in Buellton, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, according to news reports.

The horses were sold to Gardner by Carry and Mary Dann, two Western Shoshone Indian sisters who have been in a feud with the federal government over grazing rights.

In early April, the Santa Barbara County Animal Services office received the first complaints about the way the horses were being cared for, said Director Jan Glick.

One complaint was filed by Doug Herthel, a veterinarian and owner of an equine medical center in Los Olivos after he visited the ranch at the urging of some of Gardner's neighbors.

"Of the recent arrivals, about 100 looked thin, and 10 of those were extremely thin," Herthel said. "We recommended that they be fed more food."

Herthel said Gardner complied and the horses are now doing better.

"We don't think it was intentional," he said. "They just didn't know how much to feed them."

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