Veterinarian accounts clash in animal abuse investigation at Snow Mountain Stables
Several complaints about poor living conditions and dead horses preceded the seizure of 144 horses from Snow Mountain Stables last week, according to a search warrant for the property.
Over the course of Jan. 11-12, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Humane Society transferred 144 horses to the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown for rehabilitation. Another 38 horses were released back to the owner.
One horse, which the sheriff’s office described as being severely emaciated and having untreated injuries, was euthanized after veterinarian Dr. Courtney Diehl with the Dumb Friends League determined the horse couldn’t safely travel.
Snow Mountain Stables owner Jim Peterman said he wouldn’t comment at this time per his attorney’s advice.
Laurie Peterson, director of marketing and communications for the Dumb Friends League, said the horses transported to the Harmony Equine Center were malnourished and many had serious untreated injuries, while others were suffering from lameness, cuts and abscesses.
“Quite a few of them were malnourished, needing food and water, and several of them had injuries that needed immediate veterinary care,” Peterson said Jan. 16. “At this time, all of the horses have had their initial evaluation, and the ones that needed veterinary care have gotten that.”
However, Granby veterinarian Dr. Mike Brooks, who has treated the Snow Mountain Stables horses for about two years, disputes the allegations of abuse, including the claims of malnourishment and severe injuries.
Brooks said that in his two years working with Snow Mountain Stables, he had not seen any signs of cruelty or abuse.
“It would be unusual for someone who was cruel or neglectful of their horse to spend money and have a vet do preventative maintenance,” Brooks said. “They were my No. 1 preventative care clients.”
Customer complaints outlined in the search warrant for the property date back to November 2021, citing excessive uncleaned manure at the stables.
Grand County Animal Control didn’t find signs of abuse at that time but contacted Peterman in December after a report that two horses had died at the stables.
According to the search warrant, Peterman confirmed two horses had died, citing a twisted gut and injuries from rearing. He added that he planned to address the manure situation in the spring when the snow melted. He was also in the process of transferring about 100 horses from Nebraska to Snow Mountain Stables.
In December a complaint was made to the state’s livestock health veterinarian Carl Heckendorf about a wrangler overly cracking the reins. While following up on that complaint Dec. 30, Grand County Animal Control found that most horses on the property didn’t have access to food or water and came across a dead yearling in a pasture.
A stable employee told animal control the yearling had been ill prior to being moved to the stables from Nebraska.
Then a January complaint made to the Colorado Humane Society claimed that two dead horses were visible in a pasture during a sleigh ride, prompting Grand County Animal Control officers to reach out to the Colorado Humane Society to help investigate the health of the horses at Snow Mountain Stables.
On Jan. 10, Colorado Humane Society field investigator Kathleen Ruyak evaluated 36 horses and found 22 to be underweight. She also reported one dead horse, at least 85 horses that didn’t have adequate access to water, and several that had leg injuries and overgrown hooves.
Ultimately, Ruyak estimated about 20% of the herd was underweight or visibly in need of veterinarian care or farrier care.
Brooks was on-scene during the sheriff’s office seizure Jan. 11 as a representative for Snow Mountain Stables and also visited the horses at the Harmony Equine Center on Monday.
Brooks said he disagrees with Ruyak’s evaluation. He said the majority of horses were in good condition and noted that the few thinner horses were older.
Brooks used the same body scale to rate the horses as Ruyak but has a vastly different conclusion. He said weight is one of the best ways to determine a horse’s well-being.
“Those horses were the older horses, 20 to 30 years old, that weren’t being used. And old horses, like old people, tend to lose weight,” Brooks said. “I would say 90% of those horses were in good to excellent shape. Of course, in every herd, you’re going to have outliers and thin horses.”
Following the horse seizure, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said each animal was evaluated on an individual basis, with some horses being in good medical condition.
“It’s undisputed that some horses were in good condition, but others were in bad condition,” he said.
Schroetlin emphasized that the sheriff’s office won’t be releasing photos of the horses because they are considered evidence.
“We’re in the very beginning stages of our investigation,” he said. “Our No. 1 goal is the welfare and safety of the animals.”
Brooks said he doesn’t doubt the intentions of the investigation, but he doesn’t believe it’s necessary. He took pictures and videos of the horses Monday, which he said show the horses in good health with few exceptions.
Brooks also said the investigation has been conducted irresponsibly, noting that neither he nor Peterman were contacted by the sheriff’s office prior to the seizure.
“Their intentions were wonderful; they just weren’t needed,” he said.
The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Snow Mountain Stables is a private vendor under contract with the YMCA of the Rockies-Snow Mountain Ranch and is not owned or operated by the YMCA. That contract has been terminated, according to Amy Wolf, marketing manager for Snow Mountain Ranch.
“YMCA Of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch is saddened by the events of this past week,” she said in an emailed statement. “We support the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and our entire community in our commitment to ensuring a safe place for all living things.”
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the identity of the woman Fraser Winter Park police arrested on Wednesday.