A pony farm in Odin, Minn., is under investigation after allegations of abuse led to 71 horses being removed from the property.
Almost 2 months ago, Agent Keith Streff from the Animal Humane Society (AHS) seized the horses after he noticed they had overgrown hooves and that some appeared to be in pain while walking.
The agent was called after a Watonwan County investigator searched the property after receiving an anonymous call reporting that there were dead ponies on the farm. The investigator did locate a dead pony that appeared to have been there for a while. The search warrant also described the farm as having poor living conditions and that animals had to walk through significant amounts of mud and manure.
Streff and the Watonwan County Sheriff’s office made the decision to remove the horses from the property and had written consent from owner Michael Johnson to do so, according to the St. James Plaindealer.
Johnson’s lawyer, James J. Kuettner, says that the AHS have stolen these horses and that they should be immediately returned to Johnson’s care.
“Johnson breeds miniature horses. [He] selectively breeds only the best of his horses and sometimes sells a few to recoup costs. Despite Streff’s claims, the horses were not neglected,” Kuettner said in a press release.
Veterinarian Shirley Kittleson is currently caring for the horses, and says they are “fat and happy.”
Streff has suggested that the horses be put up for adoption, castrated or euthanized. But Kuettner argues this is pointless when the animals could just be returned to Johnson. He also notes the significant cost (over $60,000) the county has taken on by boarding these horses.
Additionally, Kuettner explains on behalf of his client that equine hoof care is a complicated process and that he had attempted to get someone to trim his horses’ feet, but had been unsuccessful.
However, Streff says that 75 to 80% of the horses have “catastrophic” hoof damage that is indicative of long-term neglect. He insists that proper protocols were followed by seizing the horses and that Johnson is unable to properly care for the animals.
The investigation is still ongoing and no charges have been made yet.
Update To Article Sept. 20, 2018 — Johnson was charged with animal cruelty, animal neglect and not providing proper equine hoof care on Sept. 13, 2018, in Watonwan County District Court, as reported by the Mankato Free Press.
AHS agent Keith Streff, Watonwan Sheriff’s Sgt. Barry Gulden and sheriff’s investigator Mark Slater were invited back to the farm by Johnson to examine the conditions. In addition to the deceased ponies previously found, there were two ponies pinned under a feeder, two dead foals and a number of animal bones, according to Streff. The live foals were caked with mud and manure, as written in the court complaint.
Criminal charges were on hold as authorities waited for a report from Kittleson, but she delayed her report because of a disagreement over reimbursement for boarding the horses, according to Streff. An agreement was made that would transfer ownership of the 71 ponies to Kittleson after the criminal case if she cared for them during the proceedings without charge, but she is still demanding payment for boarding the horses.
Since Kittleson refused to provide reports, authorities sent photos and videos of the horses on Johnson’s property to a University of Minnesota veterinarian. The veterinarian described the overgrown hooves as “a serious situation and typically associated with chronic foot pain, lameness and reduced mobility,” according to a court document. Court proceedings were able to go forward in charging Johnson on the evidence provided in the photos, videos and veterinarian report.