Steamboat Springs An Oak Creek woman was charged with 80 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after animal control officers found that her 72 horses were living in inadequate conditions in the Oak Creek Canyon.
Routt County Sheriff’s Office animal control officers charged Sandy Wisecup after investigating the horse pens near mile marker 54 on Colorado Highway 131. Seventy-two of the charges are based on the horses being kept in muck — a combination of mud and feces. Another eight charges were based on horses’ hooves not being trimmed properly.
Wisecup said all of her horses are taken care of and that she has been moving the horses around in pastureland.
“I think it’s all bull,” she said. “My horses are all in good shape.”
Wisecup said she does not own all the horses kept in the area. She said her family members own several of the horses and that she has given several others away She said she also rents out pasture to other people. Animal control officer Dawn Smith said about five horse owners who keep their horses on the property were included in the investigation.
Smith said the investigation was sparked when there was a “flurry of calls” from people concerned about the horses’ conditions and weight. The pens, in the canyon along Colo. 131, are visible from the road.
Smith visited the pens with veterinarian Dr. Courtney Diehl in April and May as part of the investigation and scored all of the horses based on body weight.
They found that five were slightly underweight, but the bigger problem was with the conditions and the hooves.
“The animals were in consistently wet conditions on ground that was not well drained,” Smith said.
She said some of the horses were in small pens where they were not able to get out of the muck. Diehl said that could cause problems over time.
“Generally, when a horse’s foot is wet and packed with wet material for long periods of time, the structure of the hoof becomes soft and permeable,” she said. “Bacteria and fungus pack into the sole … and over time it weakens the whole foot.”
Smith said they also graded the horse’s hooves on a scale based on how overgrown the hooves were judged to be because overgrown hooves are thought to cause chronic pain. Smith then recommended a timeline for all of the overgrown hooves to be trimmed, and she said Wisecup is complying with those recommendations.
“I’ve trimmed them like I always do,” Wisecup said. “They give me a deadline to trim horses’ hooves that aren’t even long.”
Diehl said hooves should be trimmed every six to eight weeks. Diehl also said many of the complaints about the horses were found to be false.
“A lot of people go by and they say those horses are emaciated, they’re being starved, and that’s not true — they’re not emaciated, and they’re not being starved,” she said.
Routt County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Walsh is overseeing the case. He said he’s reviewing the reports and, as with all misdemeanor cases, he will prepare a plea agreement for Wisecup to consider at her first court appearance, scheduled for Aug. 24.
Deputies also impounded a mare and her foal found at the property and charged their owner, Cynthia Hatlee Morgan, with animal cruelty. Smith said the mare was 200 to 300 pounds underweight but has put on about 75 pounds since she was taken off the property in late May. A phone number for Hatlee Morgan was not available. She also is scheduled to appear Aug. 24.
History of charges
Wisecup has been charged with animal cruelty about a dozen times before, with cases dating to the 1980s, according to Sheriff’s Office records.
Routt County Sheriff’s Office evidence technician Mellisa Baumgartner said there have been numerous complaints, and because most of them are older, it’s not immediately clear how many resulted in charges.
Wisecup said several of those have resulted from misunderstandings. She said in one case, starving horses found on her land were owned by another man. In another case, she said she was unable to go to court and defend herself and was told the court found against her, but she did not recall any punishment.
In 1992 she was charged with 20 counts of animal cruelty and another 13 counts that were unrelated.
A jury found her not guilty on all 20 counts of animal cruelty.
— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org