After more than a decade of heated debates, the Sandoval County Commission seemingly put an end to the issue of wild horses in Placitas by voting in favor of two measures setting new rules for who can feed the horses.
An ordinance making it illegal for residents to feed the horses and a resolution that established a permitting process for third parties to feed the horses safely, with only nonprofit organizations eligible for the permit, each passed by a vote of 4-1 Wednesday night.
The commissioners voted 3-2 against the ordinance at the March 22 meeting. District 2 Commissioner Jay Block was the lone vote against the ordinance and the resolution at the May 24 meeting. Commission Chair Dave Heil and District 3 Commissioner Michael Meek each flipped their vote from the March 22 meeting.
The feeding of horses has been a longstanding issue for people in the community. Many things have been tried to control the horse population in Placitas, including the use of Porcine Zona Pellucida. PZP is a fertility-control vaccine given to female horses through an injection via remote darting. Another issue that has been raised has been the danger concerns for motorists and horses on NM 165 near mile marker 4, where horses have been hit by vehicles and fed by people in that area.
At the April 12 meeting, Deputy County Manager John Garcia and Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Allen Mills presented a “motion to approve the publication of an ordinance to ban the general public from feeding certain wildlife within the Sandoval County Area.” The revised ordinance would establish a permitting process for third parties to feed the horses safely.
“The bottom line, why are we doing this? It is for public safety,” Garcia said. “We as a government know that there’s a risk and have a responsibility to address the risk. There’s a concern for general safety in the community. The situation does require a solution both short and long term. Our only thing we’re doing in the short term today is an ordinance to stop the bleeding. But we do need to think of a long-term situation.”
The short-term solution is the ordinance and the resolution. The permits would be issued for one year at a time and could be renewed at least 90 days before its expiration. No permit shall be issued for an area adjacent to any public road.
Only nonprofit organizations that qualify for 501 (c)(3) status and have demonstrated experience and knowledge in the care of horse management and protection would be eligible.
The penalty for unlawful feeding of free-roaming horses would be up to 90 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $300, or both.
“We’re just trying to manage a situation where humans and horses are together, and it’s a circumstance that we have a responsibility to deal with it,” Garcia said. “It’s not the best situation, but we’re trying to make it at least a really good livable situation. So I’m hopeful, personally, that we can work together. And then we have a plan. And then in the end there will be horses here and people here.”
Dozens of people showed up to speak about their opposition to the proposal, and the lengthy public comment portion of the meeting got occasionally raucous. Heil repeatedly banged his gavel to restore order and threatened to empty the room because of the outbursts from the crowd.
The most impactful speech came from a 10-year-old girl from Placitas who talked about how much she loves to see and feed the horses, one of which she named “Banana.” When she finished speaking, Heil encouraged the crowd to clap and the crowd responded with a huge ovation.
Block spoke out against the ban and showed a picture of a dead horse and a picture of a starving horse.
“This is the future of Placitas right here,” Block said. “I don’t want to see that in Placitas. This is a dead horse that starved to death. This is what we’re voting on right now. If you vote for this, you’re voting for that. You also voted against your private property rights and having this little girl over here feed the horses.”
The ban goes into effect on Sept. 1, and nonprofits can start applying for permits immediately. County officials said they will make sure the horses continue to be fed during the transition as organizations apply for permits.
“What is in the best interest for the people and the horses is this solution that endangers neither people nor horses,” Garcia said. “Passing this resolution and ordinance again is not the end; it’s the beginning of the final process to deal with a safety problem that will only get worse as our community grows.”