By Rebecca Rose
VEGUITA – A pregnant horse was shot and mutilated by a state livestock inspector on Saturday night. The horse belonged to Socorro County resident Gilbert Barela who, along with members of his family, discovered the animal’s dismembered body on near Highway 60 later that weekend.
Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Oct. 9, State Police alerted local authorities that a horse was trapped in a cattle guard off of Highway 60. Socorro County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Sweeney arrived on the scene first, followed shortly afterwards by New Mexico Livestock Inspector Bea Bell.
“The first thing I saw was horse laying in cattle guard, throwing her head on pavement because she was not able to get up.”
Three of the mare’s limbs were stuck in the guard, and according to Bell, had fallen all the way through. The front leg was also broken, and the horse was bleeding from its nostrils. “It could not get up. It could not do anything but thrash it’s head on the ground.” she said.
Within less than three minutes, she decided the animal needed to be euthanized. Officers with New Mexico Livestock Board have the authority to euthanize an animal if they believe it is the best option.
Bell deemed the dead animal to be a traffic safety hazard, and then made the decision to sever the limbs, in order to move it to a safer location.
For the next five hours, both Sweeney and Bell worked to free the animal’s body from the grate.
“We initially tried to remove her from cattle guard. But we just could not get her out. We tried everything. The only way to remove to her from the cattle guard was to dismember the legs.”
Sunday morning, the Barela family made a gruesome discovery, when they found the body of the horse.
“We saw this mare by the cattle guard, with three of the legs cut off.” said Barela. “We saw legs inside the cattle guard. We thought someone had killed her, or hit her. We didn’t know who did it.”
“It was terrible. To see something like that, a horse with no legs.” he said.
Barela and his family left the body, and continued with their work. They went back later to take photos. He said he did not learn how the mare ended up like that until he spoke to Deputy Sweeney. Barela then contacted the media in Albuquerque to report what had happened.
Barela objected to the inspector’s decision to euthanize the horse, and stated that they done more to contact him when they found the horse. “It was our responsibility. We would have shot her. They took it upon themselves. She should have called me. We could have been there in 10 or 15 minutes.”
Bell said she made an attempt to locate the owner by matching the brand to the Livestock Commission’s brand book, a detailed record of area cattlemen and their signature brands. She said the brand appeared distorted. “We tried to verify ownership. I looked at my Brand book, but it did not match anything. So I couldn’t call anybody. At that point in time there was no other alternative but to leave her there.”
Barela disputed the claim about the brand being distorted. “The brand was very clear to me. I had just branded this mare about a month ago.”
Bell said she would have called Barela if she had recognized the brand.
When asked why she left the horse’s body on the side of the road, Bell pointed to timing and logistical issues. “It was very late. The County does not have 24 hour people on call for things like this. Their budgets are restricted. And this was Sunday, a day they don’t normally work and Monday was a Holiday.” Barela stated he did not feel responsible for disposing of the carcass. “We told them, we didn’t do this. You need to take care of it.”
Socorro County officials removed the body, and Barela stated he has not been contacted by anyone regarding the removal.
“I really feel for the Barelas. It’s hard to lose an animal.” said Bell. “They have my empathy. It’s unfortunate, but it happens to livestock on the range. As long as you let animals run at large, where there are dogs and coyotes, that can chase them, cause them to get in harm’s way, this kind of thing can happen.”
Barela said that dogs could have been chasing the horse, who was not fenced in. “It’s open range, out there. Lots of people have their cattle roam free there.”