Amid public outcry and an investigation by the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, the privately run Mustang Ranch and Rescue shut down its operation in Cataldo and released its horses last week to a rescue in Washington and a new owner in Missouri.
The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office began an investigation into the ranch nearly two weeks ago after several calls came in from neighbors about animal abuse and the ranch starving its horses.
One of the horses was taken off the ranch Oct. 3 by Cataldo resident Candi Beeler. That horse had to be euthanized last Monday because it was in such poor condition.
"We were contacted by the Blacks," said Kelly Artiero, vice president of the nonprofit Rough Start Horse Rescue of Ford and Sprague, Wash.
Sean and Bonny Black, who Artiero said ran Mustang Ranch and Rescue as a private organization, relinquished ownership of five of the nine remaining horses to Rough Start on Friday.
"It was a release, not a confiscation," Artiero said. "(The Black family) was very cooperative. They weren't purposely being cruel (to the animals). It comes from not knowing and not having enough information on what they were doing and taking in too many at one time."
She said the Blacks accepted 20 horses around June.
The four remaining horses were willingly given to an owner with a Missouri address whose name was not known at press time.
"They were doing this out of their own pockets, just trying to help these horses as much as they can. They just got in over their heads," Artiero said.
When Artiero went to pick up the five horses - one stud, three mares and one 3-month-old filly - she said she saw the horses had "plenty of feed."
"It wasn't that they weren't feeding (the horses)," she said. "They had all the right tools, just not the right knowledge on how to use those tools."
Idaho State Brand Inspector Mary Malloy was also involved in the recent investigation of Mustang Ranch and Rescue.
"Our role in this investigation was to establish ownership," Malloy said. "And once the horses were relinquished, to perform brand inspections in order to show legal change of ownership from the Mustang Ranch and Rescue to the new owners."
The function of the State Brand Inspector, she said, is to protect Idaho's livestock and determine ownership of animals by inspecting brands. She also said branding of livestock in Idaho is optional.
Malloy was at the ranch in Cataldo last Tuesday to back up Kootenai County Animal Control and determined that the ranch's nine horses did not have any brands from the ranch, but ownership was "loosely" established when the Black family showed her where they had obtained the horses through paperwork.
The five horses now belonging to Rough Start were described as "very, very thin." And according to the judgment of Rough Start Horse Rescue, veterinarians and Kootenai County Animal Control, whose personnel were also involved in the investigation, the horses scored between 2 and 3 on a horse body condition scale. The scale rates a horse's condition from 1 to 10, 1 being poor and 10 being obese.
The five horses are in the Ford, Wash., facility belonging to Rough Start Horse Rescue where Artiero said her all-volunteer staff is improving their health slowly.
"They're coming around pretty well," she said. An average horse consumes roughly one ton of hay a month, but to prepare these horses for the winter, they will need to eat around three tons of hay a month.
Sean Black, meanwhile, told Artiero that his family is done with horses.