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50+ neglected horses seizure by court in Texas - Sep. 2023

[extremely long - purpose: deeper awareness of what rescue can entail]

Definition for this post: “Livestock” includes cattle and horses. In this case, they were all turned out together in a very large pasture.

Background info: In the U.S., animal neglect & cruelty laws and ordnances tend to be at the state and/or county level. Laws referred to in this post are in the state of Texas and/or most counties in Texas. Such laws tend to be similar in other states as well.

And here we go …

Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society was awarded 55 horses and 1 donkey, starving and dehydrated, in one large seizure at the end of August. BEHS took on all of the equines in the case (often more than one rescue ends up involved in large seizures).

In the past it would have been necessary to partner with other rescues to take on so many. But with growth and development over it’s 15+ years of operation, Bluebonnet was able to pick all of them up and deliver all to foster homes.

Bluebonnet could use donations to help these horses, who are in rough condition. They are estimating a total budget for them of $20k – however, this is less than $500 per animal. Based on experience, at least some individuals could have needs that are two or three times that amount.

Paypal donatation link to help Bluebonnet

(mods said it’s ok to post the donation link above)

I thought COTH’ers might be interested in some of the background of how a horse rescue works in a case like this, in addition to what Bluebonnet has shared in the article linked below. This information is from what Bluebonnet has shared with its members and from several news sources in the area.

In many ways this is a textbook case of one way that situations develop with large numbers of animals in dire condition and needing urgent intervention, for humane and life-saving purposes.

This ranch is in Brazoria County, Texas. The county lies partially along the coastline south of Houston & Galveston. There are a few larger towns, but this is primarily a rural area of cattle ranches and horse farms. (So many cows, so many horses … as someone once remarked, it isn’t a day in South Texas without seeing pastures of cows and horses out of the car window.)

In this case, as is customary in the area, cattle and horses are kept loose on a large property with a perimeter fence (800 acres for this one). Water is provided by wells powered by windmills or other means, pumping into large manmade tanks. And by some ground water.

(There are fewer of these large ranch properties over time, as they are being sold off for population growth and housing demand. Fewer heirs want to continue the life. But still quite a few are out there, especially south of an imaginary line drawn from Houston in the east to El Paso in the west. (A 10 hour drive btw, more if you stop to fuel up & pee. Even though it is a straight shot on I-10 (800 miles).)

Normally this is a hot, humid, rainy, wet climate, subject to coastal storms and hurricanes. Normally there is well water and ground water all year, from small rivers, lakes and bayous. The land is FLAT like a table, barely above sea level, and normally very grassy.

But, for the last several months, all Texas has been under a scorching drought, as is happening in most of the south. Exceptionally high temps. No precipitation since May. None in the forecast. All of the usual natural sources of stock water, including wells, are way down or dried up at this point.

Unfortunately, as in past severe droughts, there are properties where water and forage have run out and the owners have not made themselves aware. Or have not acted. If they are not hereditary ranchers, as it were, they may not be in the habit of driving the property in a beat-up pick-up several times a week. And it can quickly feel overwhelming to suddenly have the full care of providing for so many animals.

This has happened in every major drought, in any location. Some ranchers are paying attention and acting – but some property owners are not (who do not deserve the description of ‘ranchers’).

Random passersby observed the starving, dehydrated animals, in their pastures, from the road – this is the primary source first reports in neglect cases. Many pastures have fenceline along rural highways.

Neighboring property owners also saw and reported multiple dead cattle across their fence. Neighbors are also a major source of first reports. One neighbor reported cattle charging their fence in an attempt to get at the neighbor’s water tank. The neighbor tried to get some water to the cattle, but there were so many.

Where can people report livestock in visible distress? In the case of this rural area, people knew that they could report to the sheriff’s dept. In some areas where Bluebonnet has its name out, they can also contact Bluebonnet first, and Bluebonnet will work through authorities. In this case they went first to the sheriff’s dept.

Reports from the road OR across the fence are the only valid reports from regular citizens. Going onto the property without permission is a no-no – this is trespassing, and LE can’t use the report.

Only an LE or Official Animal Control led team can investigate inside the property boundaries.

Because of the relationship that Bluebonnet has built with this LE team, a Bluebonnet leader was allowed to accompany the sheriff, a deputy, an investigator and a veterinarian on the first visit to the property. At this point I don’t know what legal permission they got from the court and/or the property owner to be on the property - owner permission, court order, whatever. Gates are usually locked, obviously. If they were not given access by the owner, they had to be able to legally break the lock.

Once the team was inside the gate, on the property and able to explore the woods and other areas not near the road, they found more than 2 dozen dead cattle, a dead horse and evidence of neglected horses as well as neglected cattle.

As an aside, freelance investigations on the property by non-LE non-AC citizens are not usable by LE – unless the person reporting had the permission of the owner to be on the property.

[Local news report] “Over the weekend over 30 head cattle were found dead after a suspected insufficient access to water,” the Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office stated in a press release. [Later counts of 37 dead cattle.]

… the suspected cause of death was insufficient access to water.

They also discovered one dead horse and a number of horses living on the property among the cattle, in an equal state of neglect, starvation and dehydration.

(Also typical for horses and cattle to share pastures in the west. It’s fine and a natural environment, if the land provides well. My OTTB lived that way under a previous owner and speaks fluent cow.)

Note that there is no automatic access for an ‘equine rescue’ in an LE situation. They have to know who you are, see a past record, see what becomes of the horses. In many cases you need to have already built a relationship with LE to be allowed in.

That said – many LE do want to feel as if they made a positive difference, and are open to a rescue helping them get to that result, if they trust the rescue. Let’s face it, sadly, there are incompetent and even bogus scam rescues out there, and most LE knows it well. Not only do they not want to consign horses to such a fate, but they don’t want it coming back on them later.

The release noted that authorities collaborated with the Sweeny Fire Department to provide roughly 4,000 gallons of water to the effected livestock.

Parallel civil and criminal investigations are ongoing.

Authorities stated that a veterinarian was brought in to help the remaining livestock suffering from dehydration and recommended the animals not be moved from their positions in order to give them the opportunity to recuperate.

A necropsy to determine the [official] cause of death is underway, conducted by Texas A&M Large Animal Hospital.

There is another drama in here to get just a brief mention. Bringing the animals out of the woods and far corners and getting an accurate count is a major undertaking. And heavy equipment must come in to bury the many dead animals. Other county ag and health organizations may have something to say about the disposal, as well.

As the process goes on, for the horses especially, identifying each one and assigning some means of tracking it. Getting stats on each one - gender, size, probable age, state of health. All necessary to help assign the horse to an appropriate foster home.

So … livestock has had a turn at water, which can perk them up and make them look better, very quickly! Lack of water can take animals out within days – and it can spruce them back up, just as fast. (Take those rescue photos right away before the animal gets any sustenance, to make the case for neglect because they may start to look a lot better, quickly. Sometimes you only get one chance to get the photo evidence.)

What happens next?

The evidence taken while the animals are initially gathered is used in a court hearing to seize / take the animals from the owner. The owner will lose whatever investment and resources they had in the animals. The owner may be fined, and may be charged for the county’s expenses. The financial consequences can be significant for the owner.

Authorities with the Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office said the remaining 66 cows on the property were sent off to auction.

55 horses and a donkey were also sent to Bluebonnet Horse Rescue.

Per the law in most jurisdictions, seized livestock, including horses, must go to auction. This is the best way to determine a fair market price, in whatever condition they are now. If any money from the sale is left after reimbursing the expenditures of the county, fines and the cost of keep for the animals while in county custody, the rest may go to the owner, depending on the local laws and ordnances.

Are there killbuyers at the auction? Quite likely.

Because this process is the law or official policy, it is rarely possible for an individual or organization to intervene before the auction. If you want a particular animal then you must bid in the auction.

Getting a rescue organization into such a situation is something that takes dedication and follow-up, and a lot of patience. Well before an unfortunate event like this one.

Bluebonnet has a well-documented track record to show, and endorsements from other counties’ LE. They have assisted over 1,200 equines in their long history. It is active in finding adoptive homes, pending an assessment of a match with the new homes.

Once the equines were turned over to Bluebonnet, in addition to identifying, describing and tracking each one, all had to be vaxx’ed and Coggins’ed before leaving the property. In this case there wasn’t a need to leave any sick ones to get well before they could be moved.

Then – gelding the males. Yep, there were entire colts and stallions in the bunch. Very common in a rescue of an untended herd.

The property owner, who is cooperating with the investigation, could potentially face a class A misdemeanor charge for each deceased animal. The Sheriff’s Office has stated that it will not tolerate animal cruelty and vows to pursue the investigation until all facts are discovered, recommending criminal charges as appropriate.

I will say that sometimes LE may be slow to move on animal cases, but that is often due to lack of experience with the reality of them. Often, once a newer set of personnel get their first eyeful, they become much more motivated. LE personnel can rotate out just as do other employees, so LE education has to be a) done and b) refreshed from time to time.

So … what happens to the horses & donkey now?

They are assigned out to available foster homes that are willing and able to take on their individual needs, whatever that is. Having enough fosters ready to take them is a pre-requisite for Bluebonnet to offer itself as a resource.

Bluebonnet follows UC Davis re-feeding protocol where appropriate. And educates foster homes on the protocol as needed. There is a LOT of hand-holding for fosters facing challenges in their new care responsibility.

Each equine may stay in foster care for some amount of time. Eventually the horse/donkey/mule finds an adopter, or in some cases the foster decides to adopt themselves. (Finding a probably successful adoption is a whole 'nother drama own it’s own, as many horses coming to Bluebonnet have little constructive handling or training.)

Bluebonnet follows up with fosters, and with adopters in their first 2 years. Helping as needed and inspecting at least once a year.

The horses ready for the right new adoptive home are available for viewing on the Bluebonnet website. Bluebonnet features individual horses on their FB page.

And, eventually, some of these horses may be destined for next year’s Bluebonnet Training Challenge and Expo. This is where many of their horses find new homes. Every October, as many foster equines as possible are gathered together at an Expo Center for one day of seeing what they have learned, matching prospective (approved) adopters and adoptees, and a lot of fun, vendors, exhibitions and so forth (you should come!).

So, that is Just One Story of a large-scale rescue. The rescue is only the beginning for a horse rescue organization. After taking the animals in, there is understanding each individual equine, after-care, training, and eventual placement in an adoptive home.

Lotsa links below …

Paypal donatation link to help Bluebonnet

(mods said it’s ok to post the donation link above)

Note that the news articles below are using stock photos – those are not the stock or the property in question.



Eerily similar to the situation at Three Strikes Ranch in Nebraska years ago where multiple mustangs starved to death. Glad that they were able to get them in far less time than the above mentioned situation. Will be happy to donate to the cause. Have read many, many good things about the rescue over the years.


Texas gal here. I’ve been a donor to this rescue for the past few years and it has a good reputation. I’ve been following this story, but you added some details I was not aware of.


Poor cows. That’s a terrible way to go for a cow. I’m sure they hollered until they were hoarse. If you want to know about the differences in livestock water requirements, cattle have the highest. They need a good slurry in their rumen. Look how watery their poops are normally. Those cattle suffered horribly. The poor horse probably coliced at the end without any water for what little he ate. There’s no excuse for that. I don’t know what laws are like down there, but I hope that person does jail time and isn’t allowed to own animals.


I don’t know if the media will continue to follow the story through the legal system so that we find out the outcome for the owner.

I do know of a case in North, Texas, different jurisdiction, during the brutal drought of 2012 where nine horses died on a property that had run out of water. The property owner never even checked on them.

That owner ended up with some heavy fines and four years of jail time. I don’t know how much they actually served, given the way things work out.

From what I heard the death of the horses, the fines, and tremendous reputation damage was financially devastating to the owner, who had to sell the land.

A lot of owners of land and livestock in the area were truly appalled and disgusted by what happened to those horses. They had been going to great expense and effort to get water to their own animals. In that case, the pasture was not visible to anyone who was not on the property behind the house. In any case, the owners life is pretty much permanently affected, because no one more than anything to do with her.

I did notice that none of the media reports I found so far, including those sourced out of the big city of Houston, mentioned the property owner’s name. I don’t know if the sheriff concealed it, but he may have done as otherwise I think it would have been published. That sounds to me like it might have been someone with an otherwise good reputation in the county. Very possible with such a large tract of land.