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Charges filed in horse abuse case as starving horses ready for adoption

This photo, taken from the Hightail Horse Ranch website, show a skin-and-bones Zane the day of his arrival at the shelter, Nov. 9.1 / 2
This photo, taken from the Hightail Horse Ranch website, shows Zane on Dec. 14, already looking greatly improved.2 / 2

Charges have been filed against the owners of the 11 horses seized Nov. 9 from a farmstead north of Perham.

Assistant County Attorney Heather Brandborg said owners Bruce and Allison Breun will appear in district court for an arraignment on Monday, Jan. 28.

Brandborg described the horse case as, "a lengthy complaint." Charges are complex, and relate to each of the 11 horses individually, she said.

Assisting with rescue of the horses, in cooperation with law enforcement agencies, was Charlotte Tuhy, who, along with Joel Hildebrandt, owns the Hightail Horse Ranch and Rescue near Hawley, Minn. Tuhy trains and heals rescued horses and ponies.

Otter Tail County Sheriff's Deputies had previously obtained a search warrant to gather evidence at the Perham farmstead.

Tuhy said that, unfortunately, it's become more commonplace to find horses in distress. Late this year, the Hightail ranch was near capacity. Horse owners this past summer, due to the drought, lost many acres of lush pasture. Hay prices doubled in many areas.

Eleven neglected horses rescued from a farmstead north of Perham about eight weeks ago are now being rehabbed, and most are ready to settle into new, permanent homes.

It hasn't exactly been an easy recovery for the animals.

Dehydrated and dangerously underweight, most were weak and unkempt. Some had parasites. One grey male, now called Zane, was so starved that he collapsed on four different occasions in the first eight days after his rescue. At times, the veterinarian in charge of his care was sure she'd have to euthanize him.

"The only reason she didn't was because he had a look in his eye that said, 'Not yet,'" said Charlotte Tuhy. "He was real iffy. He went down many times after being rescued, but he'd always get back up. On the eighth day, he started to turn the corner."

Tuhy is a co-owner of Hightail Horse Ranch and Rescue in Hawley, Minn., which is caring for all 11 horses until they can be fostered or adopted out to good homes. The ranch conducted the rescue in cooperation with the Otter Tail County Humane Society and Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department.

According to Hightail's website,, the sheriff's department executed a seizure of the animals, and on Nov. 9, the ranch was called to come and get them. Within two hours, Hightail volunteers had mobilized, transporting the horses to the shelter on two different rigs.

Tuhy said the animals' owners contested the seizure, but after a hearing a judge sided with the sheriff's department and turned ownership of the horses over to the Hightail ranch. Before that decision was made, Tuhy said, ownership of the horses was "in limbo," and she was not allowed to try and find permanent homes for them.

But she can now. And in the meantime, Hightail was able to work its magic on them.

With the help of volunteers, a veterinarian, holistic and homeopathic remedies, trainers and even a professional animal communicator, Hightail nursed the horses back to health.

For Zane, who was in the worst shape of the 11, the healing process involved a special high-protein, low-carb diet of slow and small meals, lots of water, homeopathic medicines, and veterinary visits.

Every time Zane collapsed, Tuhy would send an alert to a "prayer chain" of people who would pray for his recovery. They kept rubber mats underneath the weak horse so he wouldn't be so badly injured when he fell, though there were still wounds to treat after every fall.

If those horses hadn't been rescued when they were, Zane probably wouldn't be alive today.

Instead, most of the 11 are fully recovered now, and "everybody's looking really fit," according to Tuhy. Even Zane, she said, is starting to build muscle, "and he doesn't stumble and fall anymore."

Most of the horses are ready to be adopted, though caregivers aren't sure yet what kind of training, if any, the different horses have had - some may be well trained, while others may be just "pasture pets," Tuhy explained.

In addition to the horses' newfound good health, they've also got new names. With the help of the animal communicator, who regularly travels from Fargo to visit Hightail, each horse was able to "choose" a new name for him or herself.

One of the mares, for example, worked with the animal communicator to pick her new name, Star. Star was the horse featured in a television news report after the rescue, Tuhy said. She was called a 'star' by volunteers after the report aired, so the new name fits.

Though the ranch hasn't had legal ownership of the horses for long, one person has already expressed an interest in adopting two of the animals. Nothing has been made official on that yet, though, and more good homes are needed.

Hightail is also accepting donations to cover the cost of hay, feed, bedding, medicine and other needs. The ranch is always looking for good volunteers to help feed, train and otherwise care for the animals.

Hightail takes in animals from all over the region, state and beyond. The ranch works with animal rescue groups and often takes in strays. There are currently several horses ready for adoption at Hightail, in addition to those obtained in the Perham rescue.

Too often, Tuhy said, she sees people abandon their animals for reasons that could have been easily avoided or for problems that could have been easily solved.

"When you have a problem, there's always a solution," she said. "So many times people give up, when it might be something simple... There are so many reasons why horses act out to tell you they're uncomfortable...but people will think they have a bad horse and unload it."

Still, she added, surrendering a horse to a shelter is always better than abandonment.