Alto horses to remain in captivity, judge sets trial for February

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LINCOLN COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – The high-profile fight over rounding up wild horses in one part of New Mexico continues. Thursday, both sides took the fight to court in Lincoln County.

The case over the New Mexico Livestock Board’s removal of the wild horses that roamed the Alto area has been ongoing for more than a year.

“We originally thought it was going to be done last December and we’re still here,” said Kathy Kolt, who was in court supporting the Alto horses.

In 2016, a resident filed a complaint saying that the wild horses of Alto were a nuisance. According to the Livestock Board, the only way to fix the problem would be if she captured them on private property.

“These horses were not captured on public land, they were not found on public land,” said the New Mexico Livestock attorney.

Now, the dispute has come up on what to do with the horses. They have been held in captivity on a private ranch for more than a year now. That brings about the question — are the horses still considered wild or not?

In court, the plaintiff, Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) said, “The statute says a wild horse is an unclaimed horse, on public land that is not a stray.”

That’s where it gets tricky. The horses were rounded up on private land.

The woman suing the livestock board argues the horses shouldn’t have been captured at all and should be set free.

“Statute requires property owners to fence out animals if they do not want trespassing animals on their property,” WHOA argued.

If a judge agrees, the question becomes where they should be released. The Livestock Board argues the horses always wind up on private or government property.

“Other than highway right of ways, (the horses) have never been observed on public land,” Livestock Board officials added.

The judge couldn’t determine if the horses are still considered wild or if they should be set free. Instead, he decided this case should go to trial.

That’s set for late February.

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