FARMINGTON — Sheriff's deputies rushed to rescue four horses Tuesday night, getting them to the safety of an animal clinic before the snowstorm. 

The animals belonged to Victoria and Danny Cavasos, who live on County Road 2929 north of Aztec.

A person contacted the sheriff's office Monday and reported that four horses in a corral looked sick and underfed.

When a deputy approached the house, Danny Cavasos ordered him off his property and said the horses were his and he could do what he wanted with them, according to court documents.

Magistrate Judge Barry Sharer signed a court order Tuesday afternoon giving the sheriff's office permission to take the horses.

Deputies and animal control officers confiscated the stallions Tuesday evening.

“With the storm coming it was, ‘We have to do something about this now,'” Lt. Lisa Haws said.

Deputies found no evidence the animals had been fed in days and there was mud in their teeth, indicating the horses had been licking the ground in search of food, according to court documents.

Haws said the sheriff's office is still investigating the case. Neither of the Cavasoses had been charged Wednesday evening.

The horses were taken to Animal Haven in Farmington.

The male horses were all severely malnourished, infected with parasites and had ulcers in their stomachs, said Joe Quintana, the owner of the clinic.

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The horses appear to be 2 to 8 years old. Two of the horses were tattooed, showing they were formerly race horses, he said.

“The horses will be fine,” he said. “It's just going to take time and effort.”

The stallions will be treated for ulcers and parasites and fed until they reach a normal weight. Currently they are between 250 to 500 pounds underweight. Their hair is falling out and their ribs show through their hides.

Horses can develop ulcers if they go hungry because their stomachs secrete acid into an empty stomach, Quintana said.

Once the horses recover, Quintana said they will go to the Four Corners Equine Rescue, a ranch near Blanco that shelters neglected horses. 

Recovery times can vary, there are currently several horses at Animal Haven that were found months ago and are still recovering at the clinic.

Rising hay costs and a slumping local economy have led to an increase in horse neglect in recent years, Quintana said.

“It's gotten really bad in the last three years,” he said.

Debbie Coburn, the CEO of the horse rescue, is currently caring for 64 horses.

“Last year at this time we had about 45,” she said.