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Horsehair thefts leave officials baffled -- and horses shorn

September 25, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Stephanie Cundall unwraps a protective braid from her horse Jewel's cut tail. A thief cut off about 18 inches of the tail, hurting Cundall's chances of selling the show horse.
Stephanie Cundall unwraps a protective braid from her horse Jewel's… (Alan Rogers / Associated…)

There are a lot of strange things that get stolen out on the endless acres of American rangeland, a vast and often underguarded expanse, but Karen Gibson of rural Wyoming may have found the strangest: horsehair.

Gibson recently reported to authorities in Fremont County that someone cut the hair from her horse’s tail. The report is the latest in a peculiar crime spree -- authorities have more than 30 reports that people are stealing horsehair across three Wyoming counties.

Investigators aren’t sure of the motive, but they say that horsehair can be valuable and is often used to create belts, paintbrushes and the bows of musical instruments.

Fremont County Sheriff's Capt. Ryan Lee told the Los Angeles Times that the crimes occur at night.

“These guys stop their trucks on rural roads and see a horse standing there, so they go and use a pair of shears to make off with the hair,” he said.

A  similar series of horsehair thefts occurred in Wyoming a few years ago, but no one was ever caught, he said.

Cutting the hair does not hurt the horse, but the thieves are violating residents' rights when it comes to their property and livestock. "In order to steal the hair, people are having to trespass on others' property," he said.

Now, as if they don’t have enough to do in Fremont County, sheriff’s deputies have been directed to keep an eye out for the horsehair thieves. Residents have been warned as well.

"We'd have to catch someone in the act basically," Lee said, advising ranchers to remain vigilant. “Keep a lookout for suspicious people in the area or in places where maybe they don't belong."

Horse rustling is a crime that goes back centuries in the American West. But the thieves usually take the whole horse.

“That’s true,” Lee told The Times. “But don’t kid yourself -- we’re looking at a very valuable commodity here.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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