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Malnourished horses sold before rescuers can pick them up

By Patrick Springer / The Forum

FARGO — The planned rescue of up to 40 malnourished horses Saturday was thwarted when the horses’ owner apparently sold the animals before deputies could seize them and turn them over for adoption.

The Barnes County Sheriff’s Office arranged for a horse rescue organization based in Mandan to pick up the horses Saturday, which were to be seized from the owner, Ginger Helland, who was charged Jan. 9 with animal neglect after eight of her horses starved to death.

But when deputies arrived at Helland’s pasture near Kathryn on Saturday morning, the horses were gone and the deputies were told they had been picked up Friday by a horse trader from Bismarck, Sheriff Randy McClaflin said.

The county hadn’t yet served Helland with a court order to seize the horses because deputies planned to do that when the rescuers showed up with trailers to take them away, the sheriff said.

“I’ve got to make sure that Barnes County can take care of the animals,” McClaflin said, explaining why Helland had not been served earlier with the order.

The sheriff said that, to his knowledge, none of his deputies told Helland that the horses were to be seized Saturday. He said she apparently concluded a seizure was possibly imminent in light of the animal neglect investigation.

‘I don’t sell to slaughter’

Jaden Huntley of Bismarck, who trains and raises saddle horses, said Helland called him and offered to sell him the horses. He said he picked up 25 horses Friday afternoon, and had not been told of the eight horses that starved earlier.

“She just called and asked if I would like to get some horses back,” he said. “I didn’t ask any questions. I just went and got ‘em.”

Helland, who did not return a reporter’s message seeking comment, told Huntley that she was getting divorced and wanted to sell the horses.

Two of the horses were old, and one was thin, but the others looked healthy and well fed, Huntley said.

The thin horse has a blanket and is in a stall inside a barn. All of the horses have food and water on his ranch, he said.

“These horses are being cared for,” he added. “They’re in a comfortable, safe place. They got good feed.”

One colt already has been placed with a man who wants a riding horse, he said.

“I sell saddle horses,” Huntley said. “I don’t sell to slaughter.”

Rescuers frustrated

The state brand inspector will be investigating the transfer of the horses, and a report will be given to Lee Grossman, the Barnes County state’s attorney.

Alison Smith, founder of the Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue organization of Mandan, said a caravan of people with horse trailers on its way to pick up the horses learned they had been taken away when they were near Jamestown.

“I have to tell everybody to turn around in Jamestown and go home,” Smith said. “We incurred a lot of expenses.”

Some of the rescuers had left at 4:30 a.m. Saturday from Beulah, and others left Mandan at 7 a.m., after scrambling to obtain trailers and arrange for the adoption of the horses when asked to do so Thursday by the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office, she said.

“We had tons of people to help on the ground,” Smith said. “You can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into this.”

Barnes County appeared slow to act because officials didn’t want to pay to care for the animals for a day until they could be picked up, she said. Hay had been donated to feed the horses.

Volunteers incurred expenses, including gas and, in some cases, trailer rentals, and now have no horses to adopt, Smith said.

“I’m just very frustrated that somebody didn’t serve that (seizure) order,” she added.

Sheriff McClaflin said he’s willing to talk to the horse rescuers about expenses they incurred and the possibility of reimbursement.

Another 15 horses apparently went to a friend of Helland’s, so it appears the approximately 40 horses are with that person and Huntley, Smith said.

‘We’re doing our job’

Barnes County deputies first were called out Aug. 31 after receiving complaints about Helland’s livestock at a nearby farm, according to court records.

Helland and her husband, Karl, were charged in Barnes County Court on two occasions last fall, accused of letting their livestock run at large.

Helland, 29, was charged Jan. 9 with misdemeanor counts of animal neglect and mistreating animals, as well as unlawful disposition of dead animals, an infraction.

“Every time we’ve gotten a complaint we’ve turned it over to the state’s attorney,” McClaflin said.

Also, the state veterinarian has been out to check on Helland’s animals four times a year since 2009, most recently in November, he said.

“We’re doing our job,” McClaflin said. “Even the sheriff’s office has to follow the law,” he added, referring to the need to serve a court order before seizing any animals. “We’re sorry the way this turned out.”

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