Owner of malnourished horses could get three years in prison

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- The owner of dozens of horses in Santa Clara County is facing charges of felony animal abuse. The horses showed signs of malnutrition and poor care. We're learning this is not the first time the owner has come under investigation. It's a story we've been covering for a month.

Horse lovers who passed by corrals in Morgan Hill and in Gilroy couldn't believe what they were seeing. The owner of the horses insisted that everything was under control and that he was feeding and caring for them. But it turns out, after an investigation, many of them were found to be lame, underfed or suffering from parasites.

Investigators say they have documentation of animal abuse dating back to March. Over three weeks ago the horses were thin; some had ribs showing.

Horse owner Humberto Rivas Uribe, 51, has been charged with two counts of felony animal abuse, which could land him in jail for three years if convicted. On two occasions, he told me he was taking care of the horses.

"If the horses are skinny, it's because they need food. It's why I provide food two times a day," Rivas Uribe said.

However, concerned horse lovers said a pregnant mare was in serious trouble, among others.

"The mother does not have enough in her to actually nurse the foal, so the mom is fighting for the two of them," Monica Hardeman from the Equine Rescue Center said.

A next-door neighbor, learning of Rivas Uribe's arrest, recalls how bad off the horses were when he would go over to feed them. Patrick Robertson said, "They were often skin and bones, hungry thirsty and ill-cared for. I witnessed a number of horses where their hooves looked like elves' hooves where they were curled up at the end, which is really bad for horses, and then when he finally did trim them, it was a butcher job."

Rivas Uribe is currently in jail in San Mateo County on unrelated charges. This is not the first time he has been under investigation for animal abuse.

"There are documents we filed with our warrant that relate to incidents in Stanislaus County and other counties, so yes, it does seem like this was going on for some time," Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Ellis said.

Twelve of the sickest horses were rescued last month and transferred to a ranch in San Benito County.

The remaining 38 horses just seized are being closely monitored by a veterinarian. They will be taken in by rescue groups while the county starts to take adoption applications on Wednesday.

"They will take special care, and we are looking for either organizations or individuals who have experience with horses and will be able to take the time that these horses will need," Amy Brown from the Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency said.

This is a story ABC7 News has been following for months. See previous stories here: Second South Bay horse ranch investigated for possible neglect

On Wednesday, Nov. 19, the County of Santa Clara Animal Care and Control will begin accepting applications from interested and qualified individuals and horse rescue organizations to adopt more than 30 rescued horses.

Applications and fees will be posted online at www.sccountypets.org on Wednesday.
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