A proposed ban on feeding wild horses in Placitas, an issue that has caused fiery debates, feuds between neighbors and was seemingly over after being voted down, is back on the table for the Sandoval County Commission.

The commission will again vote on an ordinance and resolution that ban the feeding of free-roaming horses in Sandoval County at the May 24 meeting.

The commissioners voted 3-2 against the ordinance at 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.

“Free-roaming horses are unique and special to the community of Placitas and unincorporated Sandoval County,” Garcia said. “The Sandoval County Commission has responsibility for the safety, health and welfare of the community. Public safety and long-term welfare of the horses must be managed to ensure the public, the horses and the community itself can live together allowing for balance and stability. The approach for Sandoval County will be to develop both the short- and long-term plan for managing the situation. In the short term, a ban on feeding horses will be established to mitigate safety issues for public, especially near roadways and common traffic areas.”

District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch, who represents Placitas, continued her support for the ban at the April 12 meeting.

“I do think we’ve gathered quite a bit of additional information over the previous period when we posted the last ordinance,” Bruch said. “And I do think that I have done quite a bit of outreach to individuals and community members, and so we do have some additional meetings scheduled.”

Bruch, Garcia and Mills were in attendance for the second of those meetings, which was held on May 17 in Placitas. Garcia presented the ordinance and resolution to a spirited crowd that often roared with anger about the ban. People on both sides of the issue interrupted Garcia’s presentation and neighbors were angrily yelling at each other. Garcia was able to rein in the crowd long enough to present the county’s plan to deal with the feeding of wild horses.

Kevin Hendricks/Observer.
Deputy County Manager John Garcia speaks during a town hall meeting in Placitas last week.

“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 an ordinance that would establish a permitting process for third parties to feed the horses safely, with only nonprofit organizations eligible for the permit. 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.

Should the ordinance pass, 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’ll be horses here and people here.”