Sandoval County held a public meeting to address questions regarding the horse-feeding permitting process Aug. 1 at the Placitas Senior Community Center. Unsurprisingly, things got heated.

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, including an actual definition of what is a violation of the ordinance.

Kevin Hendricks/Observer
John Garcia speaks during a public meeting about the horse feeding ban in Placitas Aug. 1.

John Garcia, deputy county manager, led the meeting. Makita Hill, acting director of the Planning and Zoning Department, and Jayme Espinosa, director of the county’s Community Services Department, also spoke about the ordinance and took questions from a crowd that featured residents on both sides of issue and grew frustrated and hostile. Chief Deputy Sheriff Allen Mills spoke but did not take questions. Mills had email address displayed near the exit and said he would respond to people’s questions and concerns that way.

About an hour into the meeting, two people left the building with one yelling an expletive and holding a middle finger in the air.

“We’re out there taking bullets; I’m up here taking hits,” Garcia said. “We can keep on having meetings, but we have to come up with solutions.”

People held protest signs outside of the building, and many wore black arm bands to show their grief for the horses.

The Sandoval County Commission seemingly put an end to the issue of feeding horses in Placitas by voting in favor of two measures setting new rules for who can feed the horses at the May 24 meeting.

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.

Information and instructions for the permit process are detailed in the online application.

Completed applications will be reviewed by the county’s equine experts for eligibility before being forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Department for consideration and approval.

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 for the permit.

“The ordinance did pass by County Commission, so it is now a law and it will begin September 1,” Garcia said. “As far as the 501 (c)(3)s going for the horse getting permits, we’ve had no formal applications as of today. So nobody has applied to be the horses as a 501 (c)(3) as of today. The enforcement starts on September 1.”

Garcia said a consultant has been brought in to manage the horses, but refused to reveal the identity of the consultant because they were already being “harassed.” Garcia also refused to disclose members of the committee who would be in charge of approving or rejecting feeding permits. Some in the crowd were visibly upset at that.

“The name or names of the consultant should be public record,” one person 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.”

The penalty for unlawful feeding of free-roaming horses would be up to 90 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $300 or both. Mills also said the residents are allowed to water the horses because of the heat wave and drought and the ordinance will be enforced similar to situations involving traffic tickets.

“If the violation was observed or reported, we plan on making contact with that resident, sending that resident a letter with a copy of the ordinance asking the president to stop. After that, we will attempt again to make contact with that resident and basically collect the evidence to prosecute that case,” Mills said. “Just to kind of give you an idea of how this type of offense works, it’s kind of like a ticket. If a deputy stops you under traffic citation, or stops you for speeding, the deputy has the option to give you a ticket, they have an option of giving you a verbal warning, they have the option of just releasing you and not doing anything except telling you to slow down.”