Officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture say they've found at least temporary homes for 15 of the 43 horses declared abandoned last month at a Mercer County farm and are working to find homes for the 28 horses who remain.
Rusty Ford, equine programs manager for the Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office, said the process of identifying the horses, determining ownership, and finding homes continues. He said that the six horses who were most underweight—including three who were determined to be emaciated—have all improved.
Officials with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture on June 29 charged trainer Maria Borell and her father, Charles "Chuck" Borell, each with 43 counts of second-degree cruelty to animals in connection with the abandonment of the horses at the 121-acre farm in Central Kentucky.
Ford said a total of eight horses—an initial group of six and then two more—have been moved to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's Blackburn Correctional Complex.
Five non-Thoroughbreds have been taken in by Kentucky Horse Park executive director Laura Prewitt. Ford said the plan is to allow those five horses time to get acclimated while being housed just with each other, and to make sure they have no communicable diseases, before possibly moving them to the Horse Park.
Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farms in Georgetown, Ky., has taken in two male horses.
Ford said 28 horses remain on the Mercer County property and are being cared for by volunteers. He said he's confident he's found a new residence for the two remaining non-Thoroughbreds.
"For the 26 remaining Thoroughbreds, we're in the process of trying to find places to move them to," Ford said. "One of the things that I hadn't realized—and this is a challenge I hadn't anticipated—is that we have a number of Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited places interested in helping. But historically for those facilities to accept horses, they had to have transfer of ownership. With this being a legal case, we're having to maneuver through some of those formalities. We're making process."
Old Friends founder Michael Blowen said neither of the two horses the Georgetown farm has welcomed has yet been identified and because of the ongoing legal case, they both wear yellow evidence tags. He said the two horses at Old Friends have steadily improved since arriving in late June.
"They've quickly become fairly sociable considering they weren't around much human contact for some time," Blowen said.
Ford, who updated the condition of the horses at a meeting of the Kentucky Equine Health Welfare Council July 19 as the state considers changes to its animal welfare laws, specifically for horses and other large animals, said efforts continue to identify all 43 horses and determine ownership.
"Working with The Jockey Club last week, we have DNA samples on all of the horses and have begun doing identification processes," Ford said, noting that work continues to identify owners. "We are developing with our general counsel a process of making notification to those owners."
Ford credited the state's equine industry, particularly the Thoroughbred side, with quickly aiding the horses. He said on June 27 local authorities only had enough food for about one more day for the horses but then the industry answered the call.
"We reached out to the industry and in less than an hour we literally had a $15,000 credit at the local feed store—money that had been transferred there. We had four veterinarians en route. They arrived within an hour and 15 minutes," Ford said. "We went through each horse that evening. 43 horses were looked at, assessed and evaluated individually throughout the evening."
Ford has been impressed with the support, which he said also has included calls from all of the major horse transportation companies offering to ship the horses as needed.
"In 32 years working at the Department of Agriculture I've never been more proud of the department's reaction and the industry's reaction meshing together to care for these horses," Ford said. "It's heartwarming to know that we have a Department of Agriculture and an industry that responds in this way."
Ford said the horses have reacted to the care.
"When we first went out there, these horses were stand-offish—I guess that is the way you'd describe it. They'd let you come to them but they weren't real anxious for it," Ford said. "Today you walk up to that fence and they come to you. They've come to recognize and appreciate the love us humans have for them and they're showing their appreciation to us as well."