ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As temperatures rise and drought continues, anxiety is rising over the condition of dozens of freeroaming horses in Placitas that no one claims.
Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero said he’s eager to find care and homes for the horses that he fears may starve.
“I want to do something in the next two weeks, or we may have lots of horses dying. They have nothing to eat or drink,” Lucero said.
But he wants Placitas residents involved in the solution.
Board members of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District believed they found a legal solution. On Monday, they issued an order to the New Mexico Livestock Board to remove the horses.
Coronado is an independent political subdivision of the state, tasked with protecting the environment in a district that includes Placitas. Its order said the horses were damaging the land and polluting local water sources.
Livestock Board Executive Director Ray Baca told the Journal that Coronado had no legal authority to issue the order. He said, by law, it was the responsibility of Sandoval County and individual property owners to impound trespassing horses and present them to the agency, which could then attempt to find an owner, and failing that, sell them.
The Livestock Board hasn’t responded directly to Coronado, but Assistant Attorney General Andrea Buzzard supported Baca’s position.
“There is no statutory authority for the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District’s June 10 Order,” Buzzard said in an email to Baca. She also said, “The apparent difficulties associated with the asserted abundance of horses in and around Placitas are not of the Livestock Board’s making nor within its statutory authority or practicable ability to remediate.”
Coronado board member Lynn Montgomery accused the Livestock Board of shirking its legal duties. “They (the Placitas horses) have no owner and they are feral and estray,” Montgomery said in an interview on Friday.
Lucero said Sandoval County doesn’t have the resources to impound the horses. Last week, he organized an information gathering workshop on the horses attended by, among others, the Livestock Board, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA), a Placitas nonprofit that has offered to remove 40 of the horses at risk on public roads and to control the population by using a contraceptive.
Placitas residents Mike Neas and Ash Collins, who have expressed concerns about damage the increasing population of horses is doing to the arid landscape, say they support WHOA’s proposals. Neas and Collins estimate there are around 100 free-roaming horses in Placitas.
Collins pointed out the impracticality of expecting property owners who have no horse handling experience to impound horses on their land and transport them to the Livestock Board. “How does a 75- or 80-year-old widow do that?” Collins said.
He said Placitas residents also worry about backlash from other residents who staunchly support the horses’ right to roam the area.
Julio Carattini III, who moved to Placitas two months ago, said he loves watching horses visit his property off Tecolote Road. He provides them with water, minerals and hay at a cost of about $12 per day.
“I love these guys. I don’t see what damage they’re doing,” Carattini said. “I will go to the top levels to keep the horses on the land.”
It may prove difficult to find homes for the horses.
Rudy Sporing, head of the adoption team at Walkin N Circles horse rescue center near Edgewood said this year they’ve taken in many horses that have been surrendered or abandoned by owners because of the tough economy.
He said the center doesn’t have the facilities to take in a large group, and it’s hard to find adoptive homes for completely untrained horses.