A spirited and occasionally raucous Sandoval County Commission meeting Wednesday in Bernalillo saw the ordinance that would ban the feeding of wild horses in Placitas shot down.
After a lengthy discussion about amending three details of the ordinance and more than a dozen of public comments, the commission voted 3-2 against passing it. District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch, who represents Placitas, and District 5 Commissioner Joshua Jones voted for the ordinance.
The ordinance was proposed at the Jan. 25 commission meeting and presented by Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Allen Mills. The ordinance reads “the feeding of wild horses makes them dependent on humans and leads them to stay in populated areas instead of moving throughout their natural range. There is an overpopulation of wild horses in and around the community of Placitas which leads to traffic accidents and the overgrazing of land.”
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.
“They’re being fed up in people’s neighborhoods and next to their houses. It’s created a lot of conflict,” Bruch said. “Over the years, we’ve been told well, OK, we had our horse advisory, the subcommittee’s had some guidelines for us. We basically did a few of the things that were recommended, such as the PZP program and it’s been effective, but it is insufficient. So we know that we want a way forward, but the way forward has to protect the animals as well. And we’ve got to have a thoughtful process in place that puts them out of the proximity of additional danger, but also protects the citizens of our community. So the roadways are clearly part of the problem. We don’t want to concentrate all of those animals in one area and make the conflict greater.”
The conflict was on display throughout and after the meeting. A large crowd was on hand and more than a dozen people spoke out during the public comments portion of the meeting. Several community members spoke out in favor of the ban, citing safety concerns. Other community members said that the horses are part of the community and should be treated as such. Some concerns over sitting idly by and watching a horse starve were brought up. A small group had a heated exchange in the hallway after the vote.
“I’ve been very disturbed over the years that people who want to call them wild are not treating them as wild,” Bruch said. “The people who want to treat them as feral from domestication are wanting them to be a community of our grandchildren that just come and go as they please rather than us really having a well-defined effort that will benefit them and our community. They are very near and dear to many people’s hearts. We don’t want to see them continue to be killed, but we also don’t want to see them starve as many people have commented.”
The ordinance originally called for a penalty of up to 90 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $300, or both. One amendment from Bruch lowered the punishment to three days in jail. The ordinance also called for residents to apply for a $10 permit from the county’s Planning and Zoning Department.
Sen. Brenda McKenna, who represents Corrales, was also on hand at the meeting to talk about the ordinance.
McKenna, along with Rep. Matt McQueen (Galisteo), co-sponsored Senate Bill 301 during the recent legislative session, which would allow for fertility control measures or roundups followed by adoption or relocation of the wild horses. The bill got through the Senate but was tabled by a House committee.
“It would have allowed the New Mexico Livestock Board to hire a horse expert. The horse expert would be on call, following the rules of the livestock board to help counties, villages, cities in New Mexico to determine if a horse could be moved to a shelter, adopted or if it could stay as is,” McKenna said. “It is strictly no slaughter but would be using the humane way of euthanasia if a horse was so ill it would not be able to recover. So with that, I have read the ordinance. I’m not an equine expert. I like to defer to those who are experts; however, I am concerned about the horses being hungry. Those that have lived in the Placitas area are used to getting fed by humans. We have this ordinance in place and I’m just concerned because as Americans, we don’t like much like to be told what to do and especially when it comes to animal welfare. I’m just concerned about ensuring that folks follow the ordinance. And I would I would ask folks to confer with experts and see if feeding in separate areas away from roadways like highway 165 would be in order.”
After a lengthy discussion and some confusion over the permitting process, three amendments to the ordinance were passed and it was time to vote. Commissioners Jay Block, Michael Meek and Commission Chair Dave Heil all voted against the ban.
“The issue I have here is this doesn’t take into account your private property rights,” Block said. “You’re honestly telling me you’re going to have the sheriff arrest you for watering a horse on your property. I mean, it’s just ridiculous because the next thing you know they’re gonna come for your gas stoves. Well, wait, that’s happening. They’re gonna come for your gas vehicles, make you do electric, oh wait, that’s happening. So now us here in government are infringing on your private property rights. Telling you that you can’t go out and feed or water a horse.”
It’s back to the drawing board again for Sandoval County leaders who want to find a resolution to this problem that is fair to both the community and the animals.
“I think that we need to recognize that we cannot treat these animals as pets. They are not pets. They shouldn’t be treated that way,” Bruch said “They are a formidable force in our community. We recognize and love them. We do need to manage them as we need to manage ourselves and our own bad behavior. Because when horses are fed the wrong things, they die. When people speed, they die. When we water them next to our neighbor’s yard and they trample their gardens, we create conflict and it has continued for years. It is not today’s conflict. This is 10 years in the making. And I’m just asking all of you to continue to engage in the process and help us create a potential sanctuary for some of these animals in the future. We want to try to resolve it in a friendly manner.”