By Sarah Smith

Wednesday was a tough day for Stephanie and John Johnson.

They surrendered five of their 11 horses to a rescue group. Having faced up to the reality that they could no longer care for the entire herd, the Johnsons, a young Laporte family with three children, let the five equines go to High Tail Horse Rescue, a Hawley firm Stephanie found on Google.

“I put a lot of work into the ones we have,” said Stephanie, the co-owner of Diamonds Envy Ranch.

“But I needed to think of what’s best for them,” she added. “If somebody can do it better, why not?”

John Johnson spoke of how quickly a simple investment in horses can mushroom beyond anyone’s expectations.

A $4,500 investment quickly becomes $15,000, the couple noted.

Horses live to be at least 30 years old. Feeding them for a lifetime dwarfs the initial investment, John indicated. Training and medical costs are added on top of that.

Each week, one of the Johnsons drove north of Bemidji to pick up bales of hay. Each truckload of 45 feed bales cost $180 and that lasted a week.

But the real problem was water, the couple said. They ran a garden hose from the basement out to the yard, where they carried water to a tank. Summers the hose ran outside, but water became a chronic problem.

A sheriff’s investigation into the horses’ wellbeing ended up in a brief meeting in which the couple agreed to relinquish ownership of the five.

“I’d been thinking about it for a week,” Stephanie acknowledged.

But like any revered pets, it was hard to let go.

Both Johnsons recall the case of two horses that died of starvation tied to a tree near Dorset last winter.

They were appalled.

The couple decided it would not happen to them, and they would let a rescue operation take the horses before drastic measures had to be taken. The couple has operated the ranch north of Laporte for the past three years.

Sheriff Cory Aukes, who declined to discuss the case specifically, said it had a happy ending and he hopes the best for the remaining herd.

“That’s what rescue organizations are for,” he said.

If you know of any livestock owners struggling to pay for feed or water, call the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department at 732-2502 or Sarah at the Enterprise, 732-3364.