Starting early Tuesday morning, several animal rescue organizations including the Humane Society of North Texas removed about 80 horses from a ranch here, a spokeswoman with the Humane Society said.

More than a dozen volunteers from equine rescue agencies were present at the ranch to take the horses away in a caravan of trailers. The removal of the horses was difficult at times because some of the animals resisted being corralled and loaded onto trailers. Afternoon storms added to the difficulty as the horse loading area became a wet, muddy mess.

“The Hunt County Sheriff’s Office asked The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to provide onsite assessment of the horses as they are being removed from the property as well as triage working with a veterinarian,” said Kathy Covey, a public information officer for HSUS.

Habitat for Horses, a Texas-based horse rescue organization, coordinated the removal of the horses from the property to a secure, undisclosed location.

“These guys have been under investigation for two weeks now,” said Jerry Finch, president Habitat for Horses, who said the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office conducted the initial investigation before contacting the group.

Equine rescuers had to chase down horses that were loose in fields and once caught, spent time carefully taking pictures and documenting each individual horse’s condition.

“(There are) too many horses and it appears they haven’t been fed well and many are underweight,” said Lou Guyton, director of the Humane Society’s Southwest Regional Office.

The owner of the horses is Richard Holtzman. When a reporter approached the house, a woman answered the door, but declined comment.

According to John Howard, a 24-year-old man he brought down to the ranch from Missouri, he has been at the Hunt County property, which is located off of County Road 2208, for only about a month-and-a-half and the horses were brought to the property from Missouri.

He said Holtzman is renting the property from Valerie Gordon and Charles Walworth, who now reside in Hawaii.

A Hunt County Sheriff’s Office deputy on the scene said the office had received allegations of mistreatment from local residents and had looked into it before contacting Habitat for Horses.

Rodney Gregory who runs Texas Ranch Designers, a business in which he designs and builds ranch sites, said he was one of the people who reported the alleged mistreatment. Gregory was contracted by Holtzman to build pens for the horses, which gave him a front row seat to see the deteriorating condition of the horses.

“You’re supposed to have two acres for a horse,” Gregory said. The 40-acre estate has been the home about 80 horses, rescue workers reported.

“The grass was up to here when I got here,” Gregory said, holding his hand level at just above his knees. Parts of the property are now bare.

Gregory reported that Holtzman is delinquent in his payments to him, the ranch owners, and several businesses throughout the area that would normally be a source for horse feed. He also said that he believes some of the horses were stolen and brought to Texas illegally. He said that he repeatedly notified Holtzman of his concern for the horses’ well-being, but the situation just got worse.

Dr. Kenton Arnold with Equine Veterinary Services of Terrell, assessed the scene as the horses were being rounded up for removal. He said that instances of equine neglect are on the rise.

“I’ve been called out on the scene eight times this year (that required the removal of horses),” Arnold said. “Nothing on this massive of a scale. Usually we can do what we call a ‘consult.’ If the owner is receptive we can educate them on the horses’ needs and we can turn them around. We don’t want to take horses away from their owners if we don’t have to.”

As of press time, no charges have been filed against the owners, but a court date to determine who will have custody of the horses has been set for July 16 at 1:30 p.m. in Justice of the Peace Judge James E. “Sarge” Erwin’s office, said Deanne Murillo, an investigator with Habitat for Horses.

However, Guyton, with the Humane Society, said it is not unusual for charges not to be filed immediately and all evidence of the alleged neglect will be turned over the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office.

Doug Bayes, a neighbor who could be seen standing at his fence most of the day watching the horse’s removal, said he noticed the horses were thin, but figured the owners were running a rescue operations.

“I had no idea that there was a problem like this over there,” he said, saying the owner seemed to be a nice guy. “I haven’t had any excitement like this in a long time.”

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