Horse caretakers seek to intervene in lawsuit against state livestock board

Intervenors seek adoption of horse herd members. WHOA contends they still can be released to roam

Dianne L Stallings
Ruidoso News
  • Case over the fate of free-roaming horses became divisive

A motion to intervene in the suit filed by the Wild Horse Observers Association against the New Mexico Livestock Board was submitted earlier this month to the 12th Judicial District Court.

Even with the capture of one herd, other horses roam free in the Alto area north of Ruidoso.

Teeatta Lippert, Nathan Lippert and Shelley McAlister filed the action, asking the court for an order allowing them to intervene.

Teeatta Lippert was one of nine individuals who signed a transfer certificate for the custody and control of the 12 free-roaming Alto horses after the livestock board picked them up in August 2016, when a property owner confined them in her corral. The livestock board contended they were estray livestock.

As the motion noted, the case has become “one of the most bitterly divisive to be seen in Lincoln County.”

In the background information, the motion states that since an order was entered Dec. 12, 2016, by District Judge Daniel Bryant, extending a temporary restraining order against the auction of the horses, and requiring the signers to continue their care and custody on the 10-acre parcel to which the livestock board returned the horses, the signers and others “have been the victim of financial misconduct and false and fraudulent representations by WHOA and its president, Patience O’Dowd, and their allies.”

The intervenors’ attorney, Dave Reynolds, wrote that O’Dowd made a false representation that all money raised for the Alto herd would stay in Alto, but once in control of the dollars raised from a GoFundMe account, the money was used to fund the litigation against the livestock board instead of going toward the care of the horses.

The motion accuses O’Dowd and a WHOA member of harassment and contends WHOA has provided “only minimal financial support for the feeding, care and facility upkeep required by the horses.”

“As a result of these threats and harassment, the intervenors fear for personal safety, for their property and for the lives of their own animals,” the suit states.

The prolonged confinement of the horses also is damaging the property, the suit contends. The original confinement was to run only 120 days. Providing increased security also resulted in higher electric bills.

“In addition, there is no point in delaying adoption of these horses,” the suit states. “Short of being broke to ride, they are as domesticated as they could be without any training. The fillies born in captivity do not know fear of roads and traffic, and have never fended for themselves.”

The woman who confined the horses for the livestock board to pick up has signed away any claim to them and Lippert covenanted that the horses, if awarded to her, would be adopted. She has a legally cognizable claim that she now is the owner of the horses, the suit contends.

As intervenors, the Lipperts and McAlister are asking the court to dissolve the temporary restraining order and allow the horses to be adopted to residents who previously agreed to take them. They also asked the court to find that privately-owned property is not “public land” for purposes of state statutes; that horses captured on private land are not subject to DNA testing and other procedures and limitation (to determine if they have direct Spanish heritage); horses captured on private land must be inspected and determined at the time of their capture to either be domesticated livestock or undomesticated non-livestock horses; and that if the horsed that are the subject of the TRO and of the action are determined to have been undomesticated non-livestock horses, then they are the property of Teeatta Lippert.

In a previous statement to the Ruidoso News, O’Dowd denied any harassment or misuse of collected money. She wrote that the community supports restoring the freedom of the horses and appreciates the tourism they attract. She stated that, “All money raised for the Alto horses from within the community and from outside the community has been spent, and will be spent, on these horses for their care and their freedom. There are no salaried WHOA board members. WHOA has spent over $15,000 for feed and care of the horses and continues as able while the opposition increases costs by delay.”