Following a public meeting in Placitas on Aug. 1 regarding the permitting process for feeding free-roaming horses in Sandoval County, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government hotline received a call asking for information about the name of a consultant hired to manage the wild horse situation.

At the meeting, Deputy County Manager John Garcia said a consultant has been brought in to manage the horses but refused to reveal the identity of the consultant because they were being “harassed.”

“The name or names of the consultant should be public record,” a person at the meeting said. “And it does not do any justice to this community, or to making us trust the process, if the identity of the consultant or the proposed consultants is kept secret. So I would urge you not to hold that close to the vest.”

Following the hotline call, Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, wrote in an email to County Manager Wayne Johnson, “Our reading of IPRA and OMA shows no provision that allows the County to keep the names of any of these individuals secret. As the consultant is paid for with public dollars, the public has the right to know details about the expenditure. Also, while the special committee reviewing feeding permits may make recommendations, there can be no action until it is taken or made in a public meeting held in accordance with NMSA 1978, Section 10-15-1. As such, I am formally requesting to inspect the contract for the Consultant which should have the individual’s name and pay rate, and to inspect the record with the names of each individual who has been asked to serve on the permit committee.”

Assistant County Attorney Eric Locher responded to the email from FOG and named Karen Herman of Mt. Taylor Mustangs as a consultant contracted to the county.

“Sandoval County has only one consultant regarding the subject of wild horses, Karen Herman with Mt. Taylor Mustangs,” Locher wrote.

Locher attached a check report in the email showing Mt. Taylor Mustangs was paid $13,530.67 on May 24.

The Sandoval County Commission voted in favor of two measures setting new rules for who can feed the horses at the May 24 meeting. The timing of the payment was coincidental as the payment is for “Fertility Control Program,” according to the invoice.

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.

The county said Herman is only consulting on horse contraception, not the feeding permits. Mt. Taylor Mustangs has been consulting for the county since at least 2019.

According to the Sandoval County website: “The County also contracted with Mt. Taylor Mustangs (MTM) to administer a fertility control program for the free roaming horses in the Placitas area through the use of PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida), which is considered ‘the’ industry standard wildlife fertility control method that has been successfully used for decades. Mt. Taylor Mustangs is a local professional organization that has been providing humane, safe, science-based management of wild horses on both public and private lands since 2004. They are considered subject experts in this highly specialized field and their professional experience includes the development of nationally recognized innovations and sustainable practices.”

The issue of feeding free-roaming horses in Placitas has been hotly debated for more than a decade. Many in the community have grown frustrated with the county’s lack of answers and details about the ban and the permitting process. The county did have an answer on Mt. Taylor’s role in the horse situation.

“Mount Taylor Mustangs performs our PZP contraception for mares in the wild-horse bands within the Placitas area,” Jayme Espinoza, director of community services for the county, said. “It does not have any involvement in the feeding ordinance in any fashion.”

Garcia said that presently no equine consultant is under contract for the horse feeding permit reviews.

“The county is in conversations with several equine experts and will move forward with a contract at the appropriate time,” Garcia said. “Currently, no applications for feeding the free-roaming horses have been filed.”