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San Diego County investigating ranch with sick, dying horses

CBS 8 received more than a dozen emails about sick, neglected and dying horses at a ranch in Rancho Santa Fe.

SAN DIEGO — Horses starved, injured, locked in stalls, and never getting out. These are some of the reports coming CBS 8 received about dozens of horses on a property in Rancho Santa Fe.

CBS 8 received more than a dozen emails about the horses, and we decided to investigate. 

CBS 8's journalists did not go onto the property but were able to see the condition of the horses are in and the conditions of the property easily from the street. From the street, you can see a horse with a large gash on its leg, several limping, and many looked emaciated with ribs, hips, and their spine showing.   

While investigating the claims near the ranch, a man on the property walked out with a gun and pointed it at our photojournalist. Both CBS 8 journalists were unharmed.

Craig Netwig and Debra Barkely are listed as owners of the property. San Diego Sheriff's Deputies said Craig was holding the gun.  Sheriff's deputies said it’s not illegal to carry a gun on your own property, but it is illegal to point it at someone.

Kristin Taylor has driven by this property for years. She and others that contacted CBS 8 believe at least 40 horses are on the property. 

“Look at that gash in the back left leg. It can’t even walk! I think they’re trying to run a non-profit and rescue horses. This isn’t rescuing. This is complete abuse and neglect. When you own a horse property, you remove the manure and feces. You don’t allow your horses to stand in it," Taylor said.

Taylor owns horses herself. She says what’s happening here is horrible to see. “There’s a horse over here that is very lame; it can barely walk. Its haunches are showing. It’s quite emaciated,” she said. 

CBS 8 also met Audrey Reynolds on the street in front of the property. Reynolds has been rescuing horses for 16 years with Saving Horses Inc. 

Reynolds says she saw red flags the first time she drove by.  "The horses were not eating that day; there was not even one speck of hay on the ground horses were eating manure,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds says the fields where the horses stand look like manure has piled up for years. Tonight when CBS 8 arrived, hay was lying on the layers of manure. She said horses should not eat the hay lying on their feces because It makes them sick. 

“Standing in this muck for a prolonged period of time creates terrible hoof problems, and you've seen today that some of these horses are quite lame and are having trouble ambulating, and it's an indication that something is very wrong," Reynolds said.

Other neighbors showed us videos of horses with deep wounds on their bodies. They say the owners keep the horses in the worst condition in the barn or corrals far from the street.  

Other neighbors showed a picture of a dead horse lying in a field. The County’s Department of Animal Services confirmed to CBS 8 that an elderly horse trapped in mud, died this week. After years of neighbors saying they called to report abuse and neglect, county officers are investigating what’s happening here. 

A person who does not want to be identified told CBS 8, "We reached out to animal services for weeks about one of the horses who was starving to death, received no help, and watched it grounded and dying while the owner was unwilling to humanely euthanize.” 

Taylor says she has called numerous local government officials and agencies. She’s called the County Board of Supervisors, Humane Society, and now the County’s Department of Animal Services. 

This week, the Department of Animal Services was called to the property for an emergency. In a statement to CBS 8, the department said,

“The San Diego County Department of Animal Services received a call yesterday about a horse in distress at 7612 Artesian Road in unincorporated San Diego near Rancho Santa Fe.  Animal Services dispatched an officer to the scene and found one elderly horse trapped in mud. While the horse’s owner and veterinarian were contacted and responded quickly to provide humane euthanasia, the animal in question had unfortunately expired before euthanasia could be provided. There are additional horses on the large property, and currently, Animal Services’ investigation is ongoing. The ranch owner’s private veterinarian has indicated they are onsite at the property several days a week to attend to resident animals.  Animal Services Officers will conduct a thorough investigation to ensure the welfare of all animals on the property. The Department of Animal Services is prepared to assist the property owner. San Diego County Animal Services Officers investigate every neglect or abuse call and stand ready to help needy animals.” 

Reynolds says she’s helped rescue horses from numerous abuse and neglect situations. And she says she doesn’t have much faith in the county’s investigation process.

“They have very few horse experts on their investigative team. A lot of times, if they don’t have a horse expert that goes out with the team, then that is not a good outcome for the horses, and a lot of times, the horses are left at the hands of the person who’s been neglecting them," Reynolds said.

She and others say they will be watching how the county handles this situation that they have been watching get consistently worse. They say the horses deserve better. 

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