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Judge rules Placitas horses are not wild

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A state District Court judge in Bernalillo County has ruled that the feral horses roaming Placitas are not wild and therefore fall under state livestock laws.

The Placitas-based Wild Horse Observers Association filed the case in February seeking to stop the New Mexico Livestock Board from picking up horses from private property in the village under a law governing estray livestock. They asked the court to declare that the Placitas feral horses are wild.

Judge Valerie Huling’s ruling issued July 16 said the Wild Horse Observers Association “failed to demonstrate that the horses at issue are not estray livestock and that the (Livestock) Board acted outside of its authority under the Livestock Code.”

Jordan Beckett, the Oregon-based attorney representing WHOA, said the organization is considering filing an appeal by mid-August.

“New Mexico’s wild horse statute distinguishes between horses that are livestock and horses that are wild, and Judge Huling’s opinion fails to take into account this distinction that is inherent in the statute and she simply calls all horses in New Mexico – wherever they are they are – livestock,” Beckett said in a phone interview.

Placitas resident Gary Miles, who is caring for many of the free-roaming horses, said he disagrees with the judge’s ruling.

“I think the judge is way off base. None of these horses has been raised on a ranch – they are wild horses,” Miles said in an interview. “She doesn’t know anything about horses if she thinks these horses aren’t wild.”

David Reynolds, the attorney who represented 12 Placitas residents who intervened in the case to support the Livestock Board, called Huling’s decision a “victory for wildlife habitat in the Placitas area.”

“It basically said that the Livestock Board has jurisdiction over the horses,” Reynolds said.

Livestock Board Executive Director Ray Baca said he never had any doubt that the board was following the law, but the ruling answered questions for Placitas residents who capture horses that stray onto their property and call the Livestock Board to pick them up.

The horses have long been a divisive issue in Placitas.

The Wild Horse Observers Association has fiercely advocated for the horses right to continue roaming freely.

Other Placitas residents claim the horse population has increased so much it outstrips the ability of the land to support them. They say the horses are damaging public and private land.

“We have been at the mercy of these people who demand that these horses roam and ruin our public and our private property and they continually say we have no right to round them up,” said Placitas resident Mike Neas.

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