H.A. Reports: Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial

Horse Advocates was present for each day of the Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy animal cruelty trial. These are the notes taken detailing testimony given in the case. Final sentencing will be August 13th at 10 am.


Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial: Day One.

Jury selection took 4 ½ hours. The Judge was careful to explain the concept of assuming innocence until proven guilty and the Attorneys selected a jury of 6 with 1 alternate: 3 men and 4 women. At 1pm we broke for lunch.

The afternoon set the stage for the trial with three witnesses for the prosecution. The first was Denise Pipher, there when the horses were discovered. She is the mother-in-law of Diana Ragula who called the sheriff’s office and press. She described what she saw and was questioned by both attorneys.

The second witness was Deputy Larry Murphy, of the Mounted Patrol, who was in charge of the initial investigation. He reported that the horses were “somewhat thin” and need farrier work. The horses had water but no feed, although 5 bales of hay were visible. Brunzell told them that she fed every other day and puts out the quantity of food required at that time. Several officers were also there, including Det. Mike Boggs. That Friday evening, Deputy Murphy left Brunzell with a notice to comply that required the horse carcasses be “cleaned up” and farrier work done. No mention was made of any other issues; no mention of the condition of the surviving horses other than their hoof length, or the number dead. Brunzell was given 2 weeks to comply.

The third witness was Det. Boggs, who assisted that Friday, the 19th of September, and also returned Monday, the 22nd. They had a search warrant, Randy Parker, DVM joined them, and at that time photos were taken of each of the skeletal remains. The photos were grisly, as you would expect. We were shown a drawing of the facility and where the bodies were found. Det. Bogs worked with Parker to get evidence and check age and condition of the remains, remarking that none had been shot or seemed to show skull damage. The surviving horses and llamas were seized that day.

It’s hard to give an overall feel to this first day. It was low key and the testimony was matter of fact. We are hoping tomorrow, as the vets and other experts are called, that we will have a better feel for how it’s going. Today was just the start and it’s too soon to draw any conclusions after less than three hours of actual trial.

The trial continues tomorrow at 1:30 pm with more expert testimony. There were Horse Advocates in attendance, not a large number though. If you can join us tomorrow, please do.

Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial: Day Two

We had a very full half-day of testimony, starting with Randy Parker, DVM. He was the veterinarian called in by the El Paso County Sheriff to evaluate the horses in the Brunzell barn. He began with the ten surviving horses (6 stallions and 4 mares) and in testimony, using both photos and his intake paperwork, the Asst. DA directed him to comment one by one, on each horse. Many were hard to catch and halter, with one 7-8 year old stallion described as “terrible and dangerous” to handle. Body scores ran from 2 to 5, most were in need of urgent hoof care, but that would be addressed by another expert later.

One of the horses in the worst physical condition was Dual Peppy, 22 years old. The photos showed protruding hip bones and his entire spine revealed, for a body score of 2. Dr. Parker noted that along with that, he had a stifle injury and was lame on his right front leg.

The same was pattern was followed in going through the skeletal remains of 14 horses. Ages were estimated by teeth, hoof length stated, as a means of judging neglect. Again, one by one, each carcass was noted. A few of the remains were missing hooves, which stay intact generally. Although 3 of the carcasses were likely aged approximately 20 years old, over half the remains were estimated to be younger than 10-12 years old.

Dr. Parker went on to describe the barn’s deplorable condition, with manure 4 feet deep in areas and he concern that the number dead was unusually high. Mrs. Brunzell had told him they were all older and died of colic. Parker defined colic for the jurors and said it was highly unlikely that so many would succumb at a close time range.

The jury asked several questions to clarify and paid close attention to all testimony. Dr. Parker gave credible testimony, for a solid 90 minutes.

At 3:25 Garrett Leonard, Director of Harmony Equine Center, part of the Denver Dumb Friends League, was called to testify. Harmony is the facility the seized horses were taken to and one more time, for each of the 10 horses, intake forms and photos were shown, along with reports of each horse’s weight each week.

Both the El Paso County Sheriff and Harmony used numbers to identify the horses, no names. But on the intake for Dual Peppy they estimated his age, from his teeth, to be 30+ years. His weight was 896 pounds. He went on an immediate refeeding program and his teeth were floated. Full xrays were taken to diagnose his lameness and atrophy of his left hip. Dual Peppy was given stifle injections and joint supplements, as he was in pain and laid down much of the time.

Each of the horses had dental floats, except for one mare who couldn’t be done safely, even sedated. The horses were dewormed and vaccinated. And again, using photos each of the horse’s hooves were shown—before and after–farrier work. Most were excessively long, some had “slipper foot” or had “pancaked”. Some hooves were very badly chipped and some had nasty cracks. 4 horses of the 10 had to be sedated to be worked on, and 4 horses were shod to try to help support the damaged hooves.

The high point of the day were the “after” photos shown of these 10 seized horses now. They were round and shiny, standing well and after two days of horror, it was a balm to see actual photos of how hard Harmony has worked to help these horses. I don’t think I was the only one who wanted to applaud Mr. Leonard for the work he and his team had done.

As the judge informed the jurors, in a case like this it is up to the prosecutors to prove their case, and the defense is under no requirement to respond, or present witnesses. That is the practical reality of being innocent until proved guilty. At the end of the Asst. DA’s questioning, Mrs. Brunzell’s attorney, Mr. Bryant did cross examine each witness, by asking questions that didn’t doubt the testimony, so much as ask questions about the lack of signs of physical abuse, meaning abrasions, cuts, etc. In the case of the hoof condition, he asked about founder or laminitis, and no signs were there of those conditions. Perhaps his purpose was to plant the idea that the neglect could have been worse, it was hard to say.
Again today, Asst. DA Shannon Gerhart did a thorough job, horse by horse, of showing clearly to the jury the condition of each of the horses.

The last witness of the day was Dr. Frank, an expert Pathologist. Femur bones were sent to his lab to test for cause of death. These femurs were sectioned and at that point, bone marrow can be tested for % of fat content. His testimony was that there was no marrow and as such, they couldn’t identify the cause of death. No reason was given for why there was no marrow and this was a disappointing end for the day.

The trial continues at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Please come and join us if you can. Horse Advocates would like to kindly remind everyone that although this is a very emotional case, our actual judicial system is bound by rules. The Judge instructed the jury, and we pass it on, that it’s very different than Judge Judy and other television shows that are marketed as entertainment. We share your frustration with this process at times, but are looking forward to learning more facts through testimony as the trial convenes in the morning.

Thanks everyone, we sincerely appreciate your support, as well as your concern for these horses. There is some peace knowing that the horses have all gotten healthier, and we trust these good jurors to do their best.

Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial: Day Three

Thursday, May 28th was a full day of expert testimony with the Prosecutors continuing their methodical laying out of their case against Mrs. Brunzell. The first testimony at 8:45, came from William French, DVM, an associate at Littleton Large Equine Center. He was called in to address the lameness issues on Dual Peppy. His left hind had visible chronic atrophy and after palpating the stifle area and doing a lameness check, along with x-rays and an ultrasound, the diagnosis was inflammation and scarring in the stifle joint, as well as severe arthritis. This kind of damage was consistent with the athletic work Dual Peppy competed at when he was younger. Dr. French gave a clear description of the physical condition and described it as “extremely painful.” Peppy was given systemic medication and a week later, stifle injections. On a later check up, significant improvement was reported and he will require committed ongoing treatment, but the condition is “guarded.”
The Defense cross examined briefly, questioning whether the lameness was current or long term, and whether it had gotten worse at Harmony.

At 9:10 testimony turned to the four llamas that were seized. Jamie Norris, assistant director of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region testified that she had been called to the Brunzell barn that Monday, Sept. 22nd. She reported the condition of the barn as filled with manure and again, she witnessed the carcasses of horses in the indoor arena as well as one of the stalls. She was called in to pick up the llamas and take them back to the Humane Society facility.

At 9:37 Signe Balch, DVM, testified about the condition of the llamas. She is a camelid vet that Mrs. Brunzell called in to check the llamas for physical damage after they had been moved to the Humane Society facility. Dr. Balch reported on each of the llamas, one by one, and most were between 5 and 7 years old, with one older at 9-10 years old. That older llama was the thinnest with a score of 2. Two other llamas were scored at 2 1/2 -3, and the final llama was body scored at 4, a good weight. She found no injuries but noted that they were hard to capture and check. She suggested a feeding program specific to llamas. Upon cross examination, she confirmed that the llamas were underweight, as the defense questioned her testimony.

At 10:22 Dr. Cribley, DVM, from Castle Rock Equine Practice took the stand. He was in charge of the intake evaluations when the ten seized horses arrived at Harmony Equine Center and he did their subsequent dental work. Again, one horse at a time, ages were evaluated and a check up given, along with fecal counts and vaccinations. All horses were subsequently dewormed. Again each condition was noted. He also included the dental results for each horse, listing the number of ulcers from sharp edges, as related to the tooth they were next to, for each of the horses. Each horse’s dental exam revealed mouth ulcers, with some having multiple ulcers, as well as sharp hooks, waves on the molar alignments, and displaced incisors. Some had ulcers next to each of the back molars that Dr. Cribley referred to as “significant and painful.” Each of the horses was in need of dental care and some had serious issues. One of the mares was very difficult to handle, and under mild sedation, leaped out of the restraining stocks and stumbled, landing on her chin, damaging a tooth. Her float was not completed, as Dr. Cribley felt it was too dangerous to continue, both to the mare and to the attending vet. Subsequent checkups showed all the horses to “look healthier and happier.” They had all gained weight and shed out to a shiny coat, and able to eat better. Dr. Cribley also stated that all the horses had significant problems with long and untrimmed hooves, with several estimated to have not received farrier attention or trimming for at least two years. Dr. Cribley is a vet with 44 years of experience.

The defense presented a Dept. of Agriculture study on worming published 17 years ago and quizzed Dr. Cribley on it. Dr. Cribley explained that worming protocol has changed significantly in the last 4 to 5 years, due to increased reporting of parasite resistance to worming medications. There was an exchange about worming, as 4 of the 10 horses came back with a positive parasite egg count after fecal testing. In the end, Dr. Cribley explained to the jury more about worming.

At 11:35, Jay Williams took the stand, a farrier with 22 year’s experience and the farrier that had done the hoof work on the Brunzell horses at Harmony Equine. We had seen the before-and-after photos on Wednesday, so the questions were more general about “slipper or elf” feet and neglect. He confirmed that, in his opinion, some of the horses hadn’t been trimmed in the last two years. He was questioned on the details of a few of the horses. He reported that Dual Peppy’s feet had been very recently trimmed, within a day or so of arriving at Harmony Equine Center. Coincidentally, this trimming happened after the sheriff’s deputies had made the initial visit on September 19th. He has now trimmed each of the horses three times since they arrived at Harmony and since it takes some time with these extreme cracks and length, etc, there had been time to do some repair gradually. In the beginning several had a difficult time walking, but he says they are all walking normally now. He stated that in his opinion as a professional farrier, “These horses were not getting appropriate hoof care.”

We returned from lunch and at 1:30 Holly Collela, DVM, took the stand. She had done some work for the Brunzells 8 to 12 years ago, but she had gotten numbers of calls from concerned people in the community asking if they could do anything to help in this situation. Dr. Colella had been active in organizing emergency response for horses during the Black Forest fire in the summer of 2013. Dr. Collela called Mrs. Brunzell and asked if they could come and make a welfare check, not in her capacity as a vet, but maybe get some hay to them or someone to help muck out the barn. Mrs. Brunzell agreed to the visit, but declined any help.
Dr. Colella testified as to the state of the barn, as each of the witnesses who had been there had in the past. Like the others, she described the large number of deceased horses, the huge amount of manure and poor condition of some of the horses. The descriptions of the barn were very consistent through all the witnesses. Dr. Colella mentioned a carcass in one stall with an attached outside run with a particularly disturbing appearance, as its legs appeared to be chewed off above the knees. She questioned Brunzell in a more personal way about how things got that way. Dr. Colella was concerned about the overall condition of the barn and the number of dead horses, as well as the thin horses. Brunzell told her that she had been busy, and that she did not have a tractor to remove the piled up manure.
This testimony/conversation was much harder to characterize; it was more of a personal account from someone who was actually there the day after the horses were discovered. After two days of clinical testimony, the tone was very different and the answers were not black and white. In cross examination, the defense asked if it was true that Dr. Colella said that she had seen horses in worse condition that Brunzell’s that the Sheriff’s office had not responded to in the past. Collella agreed that was true, but added that this in no way excused what was found at the Brunzell barn. In her testimony, she stated that “My feeling was that you bred them, you made them, and you should take care of them.”

At 2:15, Gail Peniak took the stand. She has been Dr. Colella’s vet tech for four years and had come on that same visit. She confirmed the same barn appearance and the conversation.

At 2:20 the Asst. DA, Shannon Gerhart said she rested her case and the defense called their first witness, Cheryl Glasgow, with the purpose of confirming the statement Dr. Colella made about seeing horses in worse condition. The attorneys were called to the bar and after consultation, the question was asked differently and the answer confirmed.

At 3pm Defense attorney Bryant called Sheri Brunzell to testify. She began by telling the jury that she was brought up with horses; that her father taught her and her brothers that their horses ate first; their care came first. The Defense counsel asked questions, but the testimony sometimes wandered as Brunzell said that she studied hoof care with an elite farrier and that her feeding system was working well. She did her own vet work. She’d had bad farriers and bad vets and she didn’t believe in floating teeth, and that “I have not seen a mandate that requires me to brush a horse, pick out his feet, or dispose of a carcass.” She stated that the dead horses had all coliced and died overnight, over the course of time, after originally telling Dr. Colella that they had all died of old age. She testified that she won’t euthanize a horse as a general rule, preferring instead to “let nature take its course.”
Frequently the Prosecution objected that there was no question that had been asked by the Defense counsel that was pertinent to the far-ranging discourse by Mrs. Brunzell. The Judge instructed the Defense counsel to ask a specific question, but the answers by Mrs. Brunzell soon veered away from the subject of the question. Eventually she disagreed with most of the expert testimony by the professional vets and farrier and had complaints about Dr. Parker and others. She felt that Dual Peppy had contracted laminitis while at Harmony and that was misdiagnosed as the stifle problem and she was very concerned for their health while in the care of Harmony. She acknowledged that it was unusual to have six stallions in a barn, but they didn’t pace and got along because of her feeding program. When questioned about the dead horses, she explained that they planned to eventually bury them, but that they didn’t have the heart to take the carcasses to the dump, and that with a tarp over them they decomposed quickly.
There was a testy cross examination as the Asst. DA asked when Mrs. Brunzell quit putting her horses first, as Mrs. Brunzell had stated at the beginning of her testimony that she had a ranching background and had been taught that “Horses got fed before we did.” The Prosecutor asked if Mrs. Brunzell went without food for two days- as her feeding program involved going to the barn every other day. Brunzell affirmed again that she disagreed with the experts. Brunzell said that her horses required shelter, food and water, but upon firm questioning, admitted that their comfort was “not a major concern.”

The jury was excused and the Judge gave directions for a meeting with the attorneys before beginning final arguments at 9:30 am, Friday. The case will be given to the jury after that.

Final Trial Report: The Brunzell/ Dual Peppy Trial, Day Four

Chief Deputy District Attorney Shannon Gerhart began her closing statement in the same methodical way she presented the case by first posting the cruelty statue by Powerpoint presentation and stressing the definition of neglect. She continued with a page summarizing the physical condition of each of the ten horses and four llamas, listing their foot condition, the dental issues and their weight gain while at Harmony. She repeated that they were not asking for a high standard of care, just the basic standards. She reminded the jury about Brunzell’s testimony, as well as her attitude that “she knows more than anyone else.” She repeated that the barn conditions were undisputed and asked the jury to follow the court instructions and find Brunzell guilty on all counts.

Defense attorney Andrew Bryant began by saying that none of the horses were that bad. That Deputy Murphy and Det. Boggs, the first on the scene told Brunzell only to get the horse’s feet taken care of and clean up the barn and not calling for the vet that Friday shows that the condition of the horses was not worrisome. He added that Brunzell had trimmed one or two of the horses by Monday and that proved her intent to comply. He held that the lameness Dual Peppy experienced at Harmony was as a result of getting him too fat. The intake evaluations at Harmony stated that all the horses check-ups showed clear eyes, ears, nose, and no sand in their guts. He summed it up by saying that all the horses were “healthier than the DA wants you to believe.”

The final summation was made by Asst. DA Ashley (apologizing for not getting her last name, she was a very valuable asset through the whole trial) gave an emotionally charged conclusion, saying that Brunzell had put her business on hold, and as such stopped caring for the horses. That just because they were no longer showing or selling to the public, the basic standards of care where still required. That the horses suffered, not having turn out and living in four feet of manure. She reminded the jury that one of the expert witnesses had sunk to her knee in wet manure trying to get the llamas out of their pen. She asked the jury to find Brunzell guilty on all charges.

The jury was given final instructions and left to begin deliberations just before 11 a.m. The verdict came in just before 6 p.m. and the judge read the results: Brunzell was found guilty on 8 changes of Animal Cruelty. She was found not guilty on two of the horses and the 4 llamas.

Press later reported that a juror said they considered whether Brunzell “got in over her head.” The financials, what Brunzell spent for these horses, or the income they brought her, were not disclosed in testimony.

The DA was happy with the verdict, and after spending the week watching, I concur. The jury focused on each witness, taking notes and asking good questions. I felt it was a huge loss that the lab tests done on the deceased horses had no results, and as such, no way to say how they died. I do believe that with the evidence available that the prosecution gave a very strong case. Brunzell had a good attorney as well. This is how our adversarial justice system works and it was valuable to follow that process through the course of the trial.

Sentencing will take place August 13th, at 10 am. At that point the judge will consider the evaluation ordered on Sheri Brunzell and sentence her. Until that time, the animals will remain in their respective locations and Brunzell will continue to pay for their monthly upkeep.


To Rest In Peace.

WMGrandfatherThey aren’t getting any younger. Most of us spend a certain amount of time between riding and mucking, just watching our animals get older. If you are like me, you have a few elders of different species right now who are on borrowed time. Every time the Grandfather Horse lies down I squint to see if he’s still breathing.

We wish for some sense of order, hoping that they will pass chronologically, oldest to youngest. That plan never works. Still, as we watch them age, we always imagine ourselves saying goodbye, one at a time, for years to come.

What narrow vision. The truth is it’s possible they’ll outlive us. What if you die first?

The world lost a good horsewoman recently. She and I hadn’t met, but we shared the same friends. Her passing was unexpected and she left a horse behind. She is mourned dearly.

I didn’t know her except for one small detail: She was 61 years old. My age.

This is how animals get in trouble. They are beloved by their owner, but that person dies. Family members mean well, but maybe they live far away or are unfamiliar with horses. Sometimes these good horses languish in neglect, with no one wanting to make a hard decision. Maybe in the end they get thin, finally go to auction, and in the worst case, get aboard a truck heading south, more frightened than they have ever been. Can you imagine anything worse?

Do you have a plan written down for your horse?

Our horsewoman-friend was forward-thinking with the best interests of her mare’s safety at heart. Her papers were in order, with directives and money from the estate to support her horse. She was blessed with good friends who stepped up to help immediately.

Current statistics say that about 55% of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. Probate can take a long time: even a simple estate takes six months, with many taking over two years. During that period, no money can be disbursed for the care of animals.

Past that, not all of us come from close-knit families with similar lifestyles, or if we live in a different area, it’s our friends we will need to rely on. Have you talked with them about your animals in the case of your death? If you have a plan written, is it time to update it and check-up with your caretakers?

When I was younger I didn’t take this topic very seriously. I had a vague plan that my horses be given to a committed 4-H girl. I passively felt good about it, but the truth is that I didn’t even write it down. Thinking about that now, it’s laughable.

We all want our animals safe when we are gone and it takes more than good intention. But it’s emotional and we often aren’t all that good at asking for help in the first place. It’s the part of our estate that is most challenging. Animals are family members but without the same legal considerations. The more animals we have, the more complicated it gets.

If asked to take a pet in the past, I would have waved an arm and nodded–I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. The thought of losing a friend is never easy; it takes courage to even have the conversation. At this age, it’s a much more serious question and I’m much more cautious about volunteering. We all should be–it’s a huge responsibility.

Perhaps your horse could be donated to a rescue. Is it an idea, or have your actually gotten their permission? Choosing a specific rescue has risk involved: suppose that rescue no longer exists or there has been a change in management and it no longer has that credible reputation. Or suppose that rescue was exceedingly full when the time came. Do you have a back-up plan?

Some areas have Perpetual Care Programs (here) where agreements are made and paid for in advance, for the long term well-being of your dogs, cats, and horses in future foster care or permanent homes. It would give such a sense of peace to be able to keep companion animals in our last years and know at the same time that they will be safe when we’re gone.

What about euthanasia? It might seem simple on one hand, but if the animals are young or in good health, the courts will rule the decision invalid. Still in the case of an elderly horse, or one with chronic health concerns that require a high level of care, the euthanasia option should be considered. Too many times at the end of a horse’s life they are devalued and fall into neglect as the cost of care continues to increase. Perhaps allowing them to rest in peace is the best option.

What about forming an intentional community of animal lovers who work together sharing care for each other’s animals? Is now time to look into nursing homes that allow pets?

And have you noticed that I have more questions than answers? Have you come up with a plan that you would like to share? The more comfortable we can get talking about this difficult topic, the more we can help each other and our animals when the sad time comes.

This is a great resource on Will Planning and Pet Trusts (here). It has information on all aspects and options available to animal owners who want to be responsible for their fur family in the event of their death. It’s a place to start and then thoughtfully consider all the options.

For those of us who share our lives with loyal dogs, kind-hearted horses, and cats who may pretend indifference at times–we put their safety first. They are part of our legacy. After that we can rest in peace.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

Helping the Helpless

1374854522929By Judi Tobias, The View from Falcon, Ranchland News, Dec. 18, 2014.

I recently read an interesting article on what it costs horse rescues to rehabilitate a horse that has been malnourished or even starved. It was a tremendous sum and a tremendous amount of work.

According to the article, the cost of the special feeding for a malnourished horse is $1200 to get the animal back to a normal diet.  Generally the process takes about 4 months. The horses get multiple feedings of small amounts of food per day until they are able to digest larger amounts.  That’s also very labor-intensive which is hard for the staff of the rescues, many of which depend on volunteer labor.

Most rescues also see that the horses get their feet and teeth properly cared for if needed and see that the animals are wormed and vaccinated.  That’s for protection of other horses at the facility as well as for the welfare of the rescued animal.

So you can see that, during a rescue operation, such as the one involving the Black Forest horses, the amount of money needing can be large—thousands of dollars.  For the Sheriff’s Department, it comes out of their budget.  For a rescue organization, they usually depend on donations for their existence.  Such a large outlay at one time may be beyond the group’s needs.

In the past few years, the price of animal feed has at least tripled, putting many animal rescue groups in severe straits, especially small ones.  With the economy plummeting, people were giving up their animals at record rates.  That’s true of dogs and cats too.  Humane societies are inundated with unwanted pets.

Ask any rescue of any kind of animal, including puppy mill rescues, and they’ll tell you that finding money to keep their group going is one of their main concerns.  Even places that take in exotic animals such as lions and tigers have difficulty funding their efforts.

Rescues aren’t in business to make money and they certainly don’t get rich. The ones I am familiar with do it for the love of the animals they are trying to help and, without exception, they need all the help the public can give them.  Even if it’s putting a dollar or so in the donation jar where you buy the food for your pets, it will help.

It’s the season of giving—let’s make it one for our animal friends, too. They are truly helpless unless good people help them.  They can’t speak up when they are hungry or thirsty or cold.  They are at the mercy of their owners and caretakers.  It’s a measure of our goodness to be good to those who can’t give anything back but their silent gratitude.


Ruby Ranch offers horses a safe place

KingheadBy Judi Tobias, The View from Falcon, Ranchland News,  1/8/2015

In 1996 Pat Miller and Roger Kavan of Ramah started Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue on their property after purchasing two horses for their own use. Those two horses worked their way into the couple’s hearts and stayed with them for the rest of their lives. The couple decided that they would devote their time to providing lifetime homes for horses, giving them a retirement in peace and comfort and, when the time came, euthanizing them rather than sending them to slaughter.

The ranch is named after one of their rescues.  Ruby was an American Saddlebred who could no longer be ridden due to an injury to her hock.  She lived at the ranch with her buddy, an Appaloosa named Twister, until Ruby was euthanized in the fall of 2006 at age 27.  Twister remains at the ranch as the elder statesman of the herd of several mares and two resident donkeys.

The ranch has grown and has gained a reputation as one of the foremost horse rescue programs in the state.  It is now a 501c3 and is governed by a five directors who are experienced horse people.  The ranch has gained funding from several grant programs, including the American Association of Equine Practitioners, ASPCA and the Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance. Ruby Ranch and other rescues such as Dreamcatchers  work together when needed to rescue larger groups of animals.

Pat does a great deal of the hands-on work with the horses and supervises volunteers.  She has gone through clinics and seminars by ASPCA and CART (the County Animal Rescue Team) and has gone through horsemanship training with many respected instructors including Pat Parelli and Buck Brannaman. She has also had the benefit of instruction from several veterinarians and has over 30 years’ experience in handling horses.

One of Pat’s passions is caring for senior horses.  She frequently comments that “senior horses don’t need to be thin.” Her advice to owners of an elder horse is, “For senior horses, start with a dental exam to determine condition of the teeth. When no longer able to maintain weight on good quality hay, provide soaked feed. Use gently for riding and other exercise. Continue to provide equine companions and human attention after retirement. Monitor quality of life and determine when humane euthanizing is appropriate.”  She recognizes that there are other circumstances which can affect the way an older horse looks or feels such as insulin resistance or Cushing’s disease, but overall, this is her yardstick of care for them. In fact, in all her rescues, she recommends starting with a vet exam and says that regular vet and farrier care is essential.

When Ruby Ranch takes in a rescue animal, they follow the protocol listed above.  When possible, a horse is adopted out or fostered.  Great care is taken to find a situation that meets the horse’s needs. For example, some horses are not physically able to be ridden and will only be given a home as a companion horse. Pat’s overall goal is to find permanent, loving homes for the rescued animals when possible. The rescue has strict rules listed in an adoption contract that allow them to visit the adoptive home at any time and to reclaim the animal if it is not being adequately cared for. An owner may also return a horse they are no longer able or willing to care for.

Miller’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.  She regularly gets kudos from other horse people and trainers.  That and the relationship she has with the grateful animals she rescues is her reward.

A Resolution for Horse Advocates.

frosty 050It’s New Year’s Eve morning, and temps were in the minus double-digits over night. The cold bite was sharpened by wind. Yesterday as I drove to pick up some alfalfa to help make the nights a bit shorter for the horses in my barn, I saw a horse and cow huddled together in a slight ditch in a pasture.

Both had their heads low and noses close. The pair may have had some shelter from the snow and wind from their shoulders down, abut the top half of their bodies were packed with snow. They were an odd couple but helping each other as they could.

Maybe they had a run-in shed somewhere in their pasture and were waiting for the wind to let up to get to it. Maybe they had water somewhere thawed for drinking. They were a decent weight, so I hoped this was just a moment out of time for them.

At the same time, Horse Advocates know that there are so many horses less fortunate. On bitter days, there is always the knowledge of suffering happening, probably close by. It hangs in the air–our compassion for them is something we always carry with us.

It’s hard for an individual to do much. Every hour of the day would not add up to enough. But we are lucky to know that any kind of work is made light by many hands. Together as a group it is possible to get more done, if each of us just gives a few moments of our time. It can be as easy as an email or a brief phone call. Join us and be part of the solution to the challenge of neglected and abused horses in Colorado.

Lets make a New Year’s Resolution to just do a little bit, like the horse and cow. It’s a promise that’s easy to keep and at the same time, each bit can add up to making a huge difference.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?   (Mary Oliver, 1935 -)

Horse Advocates of Colorado, we wish you a warm, safe New Year celebration with the ones you love.  Along with the strong affirmation that we can inspire each other, work together, and make 2015 a much better year for everyone, especially horses.

Now, let’s go out there and heat things up a bit!

When a Rescue Needs a Rescue.


Do you ever wonder if a rescue horse would be good enough to be your next horse? They have a different question—are you good enough for a rescue horse?

Lots of people say they have a rescue horse these days. It’s a term we use when we think we’re a better home than where the horse was before. We feel special doing a good deed and there’s no crime in bragging. People who take good care of horses should be proud of it.

It’s also an easier way to get a rescue horse. One of the counter-inutitive things about getting a horse from an actual rescue is that there are some hoops to jump through to adopt. It might seem that since no one else wants them, rescue horses should be free and easy to obtain, but the opposite is true. Once a horse is saved from a bad situation, the rescue tries to guarantee that the same thing doesn’t happen again. The new home has to be a little better than good.

There is an application to fill out that’s careful to ask all the right questions about your experience and references. Ongoing vet care is crucial. There’s a home check and if all that goes well, an adoption contract (sample here), with the condition that the rescue will be able to check on the horse. Adoptions don’t become final for a few months. Rescues ask for a serious commitment–these special horses have seen the bad side of our species. It isn’t that they need more, they just deserve better.

Most adoptions have happy endings, like the adopter who gets her elderly and unride-able gelding massage. The last time I saw him, he was frolicking around like a 2 year old. It’s a forever home.

And there are sad endings in rescue, too. Some horses come in starved and begin the re-feeding process, but their organs are too damaged and they don’t make it back. The best that can be done is give them some kindness and a better passing. Each life is valued, each loss mourned.

Some are adopted out as sound and well-trained riding horses, and like a gelding a couple of years back, then returned used-up and lame after over-jumping him against recommendation. His rescue home crippled him and then had the nerve to complain. So the rescue set about helping the horse again.

It’s hard work. No one is happy to relinquish horses, it’s always sad and emotional. Trying to discern good matches between the horses and potential homes isn’t easy, it’s a decision made with due deliberation. And usually it’s a great match, with photos shared every year, along with positive updates, and gratitude all around.

Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes a rescued horse needs a second rescue–like the two minis adopted to a home over a year ago. On a later visit, the horses appeared thin. Their long coats were deceptive, but bones were easy to palpate. No one had bad intent, but the adults didn’t pay attention. The minis were worse than they appeared. The smaller of the two had lost just over 100 pounds–one third of her body weight. Her eyes were dead.

*Pause* Readers who have ponies or minis will need a moment to pick up their chins. Hard to imagine what would have to happen for a pony to loose a pound, much less a hundred.

Required vet care had not been done, the little mare’s teeth were bad enough to limit her digestion. The second horse was equally thin, but being young enough to withstand the neglect never makes it okay.

The rescue came with a trailer the next day and a very sad young girl loaded her ponies. They would need special feeding with supervision several times a day. With a huge storm due that week, the rescue took no chances with their precious lives.

Then the human side came apart. The adopters felt insulted; they denied the obvious and made excuses. There were angry emails and name calling toward the rescue, threats of attorneys and bad mouthing of all of the professionals involved. A young girl was devastated, she had done her best. Emotions ran hot and outsiders were dragged into the debate. The adopter was hurt because her ego was challenged. She wanted to be thought of as the sort who took in rescues, but actions spoke louder than words–even shouted words.

I noticed that through the bickerfest, the adopter never asked how the horses were doing.

And finally, I get to my real point. The rescue did their job, they held to their purpose. The thing to absolutely love about horse rescue is that, even when it’s hard: Horses come first. It isn’t always true in competition, not always true in youth programs, or even in your neighbor’s pasture.

This is where I start to sound like an ad for the Marines. If you are strong enough to do the right thing, committed enough to follow through, and just generally a cut above the average horse owner, please consider adopting. Put horses first. If you have ever been rescued by a horse, and most of us have, return the favor. Make some room in the barn, please adopt or foster.

And please, if you see neglect or abuse, report it today. The longer it goes on, the harder the rehab is for the horse and the rescue.

And in this season of giving, instead of one more foreign-made trinket, consider sending a donation to your local rescue, in the name of your friends and family. My choice is always Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. They are heroes, you can be proud to stand with them.

“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”
-Anna Sewell, (1820-1878) Author of Black Beauty


Abuse -The Story is the Same. It’s time to do better.

Pippi, Mini-mule Rescue

Pippi, Mini-mule Rescue

Roberta was the first to leave a comment on the Horse Advocates of Colorado blog. Here it is:

“The laws need to be changed. I have reported my neighbors for neglect and abuse on their horses, more than I can count! They finally got a ticket for animal cruelty, but it stays the same and the sadness never ends! I’m done calling Jeffco, because its the same ol’ song and dance. I’m the bad person for harassing these people on welfare that have horses!!! REALLY!?!?!?!?”

Back in October, some of us met at a town hall meeting to talk with officials about the Black Forest Abuse case. There had been a huge public outcry, partly due to a famous horse, Dual Peppy, being recognized in this herd of abused and neglected horses.

At that meeting, people lined up at the microphone, one after another to ask questions. The first question asked was, “How can the public help?” The panel gave an enthusiastic response, affirming that they depend on–and are grateful for–the public coming forward with tips.

Then for the next two hours people recounted stories like Roberta’s comment above. People had filed reports but the animals continued to suffer. Months passed with more calls to authorities about the same horses, who were still suffering. Frequently the person reporting was threatened.

We are fast to say the laws must change, but knowledgeable people say we have a good animal cruelty law in Colorado.

The challenge seems to come in enforcement. Story after story all had the same conclusion. Calls were made repeatedly and the horses were still suffering, but it wasn’t seen as life threatening. If the animal wasn’t on the brink of death, suggestions were given to the owner but frequently no charges are filed. In one current case in Calhan, there were over 20 welfare checks made by sheriff’s deputies in a 7 month period with no real improvement. Perpetrators have no fear the law will be enforced.

Two things: First and foremost, these horses need care now. The longer they are left, the more damage is done, meaning the eventual rehab gets more costly and long-term. Chronic malnutrition can cause internal problems. If hooves get poor care, chronic lameness is a possibility. And no one even mentions the psychological problems that result from neglect and abuse–frequently the largest challenge of all. By being slow to help, we heap extra cruelty of our own on top of what the horses are enduring to begin with. Instead of coddling the perpetrator, our goal should be to hold focus on the victim and get help to horses sooner.

The second line of damage is to people who care enough to report. It isn’t just that they are not taken seriously or that they are not thanked. Too many times the push back, like a whistle-blower in the government or industry, is hurtful and insulting. So the best of us, people who are willing to speak up, get worn down–even worn out.

With a new story of abuse every week, it’s hard to not emotionally shut down. We are each haunted by brutal photos. Is the problem is just too huge to change? It would be easier to look away, just to have some peace. But there is no peace.

Horse Advocates of Colorado is not a horse rescue. Our goal is to be an advocate in the legal system–a voice for the victims, the horses who can not speak. To have an impact on the neglect protocol used by the sheriff’s department in assessing each case and to encourage the legal system to prosecute and convict offenders to the full extent of the law.

We are not trying to save one individual horse at a time. Our goal is to have an impact on the big legal picture, to influence the way these cases are approached as a whole. To work in unison with law enforcement and the court system to let this Animal Cruelty Law do its intended work.

We have two cases we are following in El Paso County Court right now. Rachel Fleischaker, Case #14M 3024, Division B, trial set for 8:30 am on Dec. 15th. And the pre-trial conference for Sherri Brunzell and the Black Forest horses (Dual Peppy) is scheduled for December 17th at 8:30am. Join us to bear witness in the system for these horses who need us.

If you agree with us, ‘like’ our Facebook page or follow our blog. Email us at horseadvocates@gmail.com to volunteer.

Thank you for your support.