Three formerly wild mustangs are in Bureau of Land Management custody after being confiscated from their owners last week.
Ray and Wendy Williams, who live in Cortez, surrendered ownership of the equines after photographs showed them in a severely malnourished state.
The horses originally came from the BLMs Spring Creek Basin, one of four Colorado ranges were mustangs roam freely. The basin encompasses 22,000 acres of the Disappointment Valley, southwest of Norwood. About every five years, the BLM conducts mustang roundups and adopts them out to prevent overpopulation, spokeswoman Shannon Borders said.
Whenever we receive a call about our adopted horses, we go out and assess the situation. In this case, the horses were not being fed and were willingly relinquished, she said.
The two mares, 3-year-old Sable and 4-year-old Ember, and 3-year-old stallion Whisper, were adopted by the Williamses after the September 2011 roundup. Last week, they were reported to the BLM as looking neglected and weak, said TJ Holmes, who documents and writes a blog about the Spring Creek herd.
The horses, particularly Sable, are skeletal, Holmes said. She described Whisper and Ember as scoring a 2 on the Henneke Body Condition Scale, and Sable a 1.
Thats as bad as it gets, she said, adding that two local veterinarians are caring for the horses.
The Henneke scale ranges from 1 to 9. Horses with scores of 5.5 to 6.0 are considered in good condition, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Holmes and her colleagues also contacted the Montezuma County Sheriffs Office because the Williamses have other horses.
It was unclear Tuesday whether the BLM or Sheriffs Office would investigate further or file legal charges.
Holmes praised BLM personnel for responding quickly. She became aware of the horses predicament last Tuesday and they were picked up the next day at about 6 p.m.
Without natural predators, the Spring Creek mustang population can balloon unchecked, said Pati Temple, a board member with the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association.
To keep a healthy balance, you have to either put some horses up for adoption and domesticate them, or do fertility treatments, she said.
The BLM and NMA are trying to promote fertility treatments as the first-choice option because good adoptive homes can be hard to find.
Porcine zona pellucida, a protein derived from pig ovaries that blocks fertilization, is administered from a distance with a rifle-powered dart. The contraceptive effects last about two years, according to the Humane Society.
Adopted mustangs, despite being born and raised in the wild, can be domesticated over time.
The taming time frame depends on age and the horses previous interactions with humans, Temple said. Usually within a week I can touch them. Within two weeks, I can put a halter on them. From there its a matter of building trust.
Diane McCracken of Spring Creek Horse Rescue (unaffiliated with the mustang range) has noticed a sharp uptick in the number of owners trying to unload their horses for cost reasons.
They are expensive to keep, she said. Some people dont plan ahead. Some have lost their jobs or their homes in the bad economy. Theyre down on their luck and dont know what to do.
The three BLM mustangs will be nursed back to health and transferred to a new adoptive owner or long-term holding pasture, Borders said.