HAWLEY, Minn. - More than 75 people came together Saturday at Rising Road Ranch to give 30 rescued horses a second chance at life.
"I've shed a lot of tears over this. I can't talk about it very well because it was a sad, sad thing," says Shelley Johnsen, owner of Rising Road Ranch. "It shouldn't have come to that. Now I'm crying because I'm happy. When you look in those horses' eyes, you'll know why."
The horses were transported from Mandan, N.D.
Efforts to save the horses came together after horse trainers and animal lovers heard that Burleigh and Morton county authorities found 99 dead horses and 157 live, neglected horses and mules on two ranches operated by Bill Kiefer.
Horses in the most critical condition remain at Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue south of Mandan.
Horses at the rescue have a body score of 1, meaning that they're near death. A score of zero is death, and a 10 means the horse is "beefy," Johnsen says.
The horses that arrived Saturday at Rising Road Ranch were mostly a 3 or 4 on the body condition scale. Ages ranged from 3 to 10.
Kim Rask, of Fort Abercrombie, N.D., has been counting down the days to meet the horses. Rask owns eight horses and planned to rescue two or three Saturday.
"I can't wait to get them healthy again and earn some trust and give them lots of loving," she says.
Vicki Magnusson, who lives near Rollag, Minn., planned to adopt one horse, saying that after she saw the news reports of the dead and neglected horses, she felt she had to do something.
"It made me really sick to see - we've got cats and dogs and horses and to see them like that, it was just awful," Magnusson says. "This is the best way that I can do something about it."
Both horse owners expressed sadness toward Kiefer's treatment of the animals."What does it take to get him to see that this is wrong?" Magnusson says. "I can't even fathom what it was like to see those dead horses and fetuses and the live ones so hungry they're eating wood. I hope North Dakota does something about this."
Under current North Dakota law, abuse or neglect of animals is a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and $2,000 in fines. The Legislature is considering adding a felony penalty to the statutes, but even if passed it could not be applied retroactively.
Kiefer, 63, was charged Friday with five counts of overworking, mistreating or abandoning animals, according to The Associated Press.
The charges against Kiefer are in addition to four similar charges filed earlier in the week in Burleigh County, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
Tracy Tschakert, a dressage rider and trainer in Barnesville, Minn., spearheaded organizing Saturday's adoption process.
"It was pretty overwhelming to get here today, pull into the yard and see everyone," she said. "What will be great is to see these horses go home to good homes."
Once the horses arrived, they were gradually let out and settled in a bit before their new owners claimed them. Most people let the horses "pick" them.
Rask quickly found one of the horses she took home Saturday. She whispered in the horse's ear that she promised to love her and take good care of her.
Rask wasn't positive of a name for the horse just yet, but thinks that Hope might be a good fit.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525