Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brand on Palomino

The Palomino was called Morgan by the Heydon's . He has a brand that my be identifiable.
It's a running M in a diamond.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where did these horses come from?

These are some of the untreated wounds of the horses two Georgia men took to ride the mountains of Montana. These men were charged with animal cruelty.

We want to know where these horses came from. I have a horse rescue organization in Cumming, GA. ( The Heydon's came to my rescue farm earlier this year inquiring about adopting some horses. They told me of their dream trip to Montana. They said they would bring the horses back after they trip was over because they had no use for the horses after that. I spoke with them about getting the horses in shape for a hard mountain trip. I would not let them take any of my horses. I did not feel they were capable of caring for horses or were educated enough to recognize a probem with the horses if something happened on this hard journey. They did not bring any of my rescued horses on this trip but I am heartbroken that the horses in their charge had to suffer. We are trying to find out where these horses did come from. What condition where they in when the Heydon's first took possesion of them?

This little bay gelding is in the best shape. He may have been picked up closer to Montana. He is about 9 years old.
He has no name.

This older Palomino gelding has a brand on his left hip. He may have come from Georgia. Do you know this horse? Do you know this brand?

The Heydon's called him Morgan, renamed Diamond at he shelter. His name at the time of possession by the Heydon's is unknown.

Sorrel gelding. Late teens. Heydon's called him Preacher. Preacher had some founder issues now. Recognize him? Sores under his front legs from ill fitting equipment.

This is the one renamed Able. Heydon's called him Pickles. He was used as a pack horse. He is the one that was found down on the trail with his gear on and tied to a fallen tree. The vet said he is about 12-15 years old. He looks much older. He may have come from Georgia.

Diamond and Able a week ago. It's mid-September now. They were found in worse condition in August.

Read the news stories below for more details.
Able down on trail. Dawn Merrill untied his ill fitting tack from his body.

DeHart giving water to downed horse left behind.

Did these horses come from Georgia to be mistreated in Montana by 2 Georgia men. The older, Craig Heydon of Roswell, GA and his son, Curtis Heydon of Woodstock, GA, who wanted a personal adventure of riding in the wilderness? Part of their adventure ended in animal cruelty charges.

Long road to recovery -
Horses slowly feeling better after being found abandoned in the forest!
By PERRY BACKUS of the Ravalli Republic

Dawn Merrill of Missoula kneels down to hand Able a carrot while Diamond looks on. Merrill helped rescue Able after the horse was left on the Big Creek Trail by its owner in early August. Two men from Georgia face misdemeanor animal cruelty charges in the case. By PERRY BACKUS/Ravalli Republic

HAMILTON - Dawn Merrill believes that something good can come from something bad.She's believes there was a reason she found Able. And the Missoula woman now knows why she left her pistol at home that hot August afternoon when she and her trail riding partner, Q DeHart of Stevensville, rode their horses up Big Creek on the Bitterroot National Forest.

That day the two women found an emaciated packhorse lying helpless on the forest floor tied to a log and covered with biting flies and horrible saddle sores. It would take two long days for Merrill and others to get the horse back on its feet and down six miles of winding trail to a waiting trailer.“If I'd had a gun that day, I think I would have shot him,” Merrill said. “He was suffering and we couldn't get him up. I didn't think he'd survive.

I was afraid he was going to die a slow, miserable death.”After struggling to get the horse back on its feet, the two women decided they needed to get help.“It was really hard leaving a horse in that condition,” she said. “He could barely get his head off the ground as we rode away. He was looking toward us; his nose quivering in a soft nicker. It was a heartbreaking sight.”When she and her neighbor, Mike Svoboda, finally got the horse out to the trailhead the next day, they named him Able because he was able to make the trip.Able and three other horses confiscated at a temporary corral from a pair of Georgia men are now recovering at the Bitter Root Humane Association in Hamilton. Curtis, 37, and Craig Hayden, 69, of Woodstock. Ga., have pleaded not guilty to charges of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. A pretrial hearing is set for Oct. 9. If the men decide to take the matter to trial, county officials say that likely won't occur until after the first of the year.In the meantime, the Ravalli County Sheriff's Department will retain control of the animals. The men's attorney, Matthew Stevenson of Missoula, did not return a phone call.Last week, Able joined the other three horses at the Bitter Root Humane Association facility in Hamilton after spending several weeks under the care of Corvallis area veterinarian Shawn Gleason.

Able shares a pen with the men's other pack animal, which locals have named Diamond. Of the four animals, the pack animals suffered the most severe injuries during the men's two-month-long pack trip through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.Vicky Dawson, manager of Bitter Root Humane Association, said that while the horses are progressing, both Able and Diamond still face some long-term health challenges.There are issues with Able's hooves that will take time to cure. And Diamond has corneal ulcers that aren't healing.“We're both concerned and discouraged that his eyes aren't getting better,” Dawson said. “We're not done fighting for these horses yet. The horse community has been very supportive of these animals.”The 2.64-acre facility doesn't have a lot of room to care for horses. Funding is always an issue. Dawson said people from as far away as Washington state have stepped forward to help pay for hay.The case outraged people who know horses.“I've never considered myself a horse person, but people who are told us they were just appalled when they looked at these horses,” Dawson said. “I talked with grown men who were in tears, they said it was so uncalled for. They said common sense should have prevailed.”Merrill is hoping the case will galvanize people who care about horses and other animals. She hopes they will step forward to help people who struggle to afford feed for their animals.She also wants to see more severe penalties for cases of obvious animal abuse. Under current state law, felony animal abuse charges can only be applied to cases that involve more than 10 animals, or where a prosecutor can prove intentional torture.“Everybody complains about animal abuse, but nobody is working to try and change the laws,” Merrill said. “It's time for people who are passionate about this issue to step up and work to make a difference.”Looking over Able and Diamond last week in Hamilton - their injuries still so apparent almost a month after being confiscated - Merrill couldn't contain her dismay.“This case went beyond simple neglect,” Merrill said. “This was abuse. This was overwork. This was so sad.”Kathy Luedtke of Stevensville has volunteered to help Merrill in her quest to bring people together to work toward both changing the law and creating a network to help animals in need.As hay prices climb and people struggle to find the money to feed themselves, Luedtke said there are already rumors about horses being abandoned in the backcountry to fend for themselves.“We're not talking about creating a vigilante group of people who will patrol the backroads looking for people abusing their animals,” she said. “Instead, we're thinking of something more like a hotline where people facing a hardship can have a place to go for help.”Most immediate is the need for construction of a shelter for the horses currently housed at the Bitter Root Humane Association, Luedtke said.“That needs to happen as soon as possible,” she said. “We need some building supplies and people to help construct a shelter before the weather turns.”Anyone interested in helping out with either project can contact Luedtke at

In meantime, Merrill makes it a point to stop in and see Able and the other horses at least once a week.“Something good should come of this,” she said. “Whether it's a change in the law or putting together a group of people who can help others struggling to care for their horses, something good should come from this.”She reached over and handed Able a carrot.“You look so good,” she said. “Yes, you do. Don't you worry. We're going to take care of you. We are here for you now.”Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or

Left For Dead
By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer

Check back for this story's update in our October Issue!

September 2008 Issue

A middle-aged bay gelding, along with three other horses, were used by two Georgia men, Curtis Heyden, 37, and his father, Craig Heyden, 71, to ride and pack in the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness, on the Montana–Idaho border, for two months during the summer of 2008. Obviously deprived of proper food and water and even shoes, the emaciated horses were forced to carry the men and their equipment while having large, open saddle sores that went bone-deep. Their story is heart-wrenching, in part because the owners have admitted no wrong.

The horses’ story came to light in August 2008 when “Q” DeHart, of Victor, Montana, and friend Dawn Merrill, of Missoula, Montana, went trail riding up Big Creek Trail on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley on August 1. A few miles in, they came upon Curtis Heyden who was riding out, who asked them in a very friendly manner how far they were going to go up the trail.

According to DeHart, when they told Heyden they were going to continue for a few hours, he admitted to them that his pack horse had refused to continue walking “for no apparent reason” and was up the trail. He called the gelding “she,” swore about it, and said “she was lazy.” He said he planned to return for “her” the next day after first picking up his truck and trailer, driving over Lolo Pass into Idaho to meet his father and two other horses at the Colt Creek Trailhead, and then driving back to the Bitterroot.

Heyden had large bags slung over his saddle, front and back, and was anxious to get down to the trailhead.

Dawn Merrill and Q DeHart discovered this horribly emaciated and sore bay gelding recently abandoned on Big Creek Trail, near Stevenvsille, Montana. The photo was taken after they had pulled his saddle off and given him five bottles of water. All photos by Q DeHart and Dawn Merrill.

Disturbed by Heyden’s manner, DeHart and Merrill continued on until they came upon the emaciated horse lying flat in the hot sun. They were both shocked at the sight and thought he was dead, until he nickered. He was still saddled, terribly thin, and had oozing sores covered by meat-eating bees and biting flies. The sores were open all the way to cartilage and bone on his withers, and his shoeless feet were too worn and painful to stand on.

He had been tied to a log, and was down after collapsing. The women tried in vain to get the horse to stand, even attempting to aid him with a rope and one of their own horses.
The creek was about a hundred yards away through heavy brush, but DeHart managed to bring five bottles of water to the horse, who sucked them all down. The women were reluctant to leave the horse on the trail, fully expecting him to die that night. They untied him, covered him with his saddle blanket wet down with more water, and tearfully left to find help.
As they neared the trailhead, they were able to get cell phone service again, and called the Ravalli County Sheriff and the Forest Service.

Loaded up and ready to leave at the trailhead, the women encountered Curtis Heyden again, arriving with a truck and trailer. He said he was coming back for his saddle horse that he had tied to a tree. He hemmed and hawed a bit before asking if they had found his pack horse.
DeHart and Merrill said they were reluctant at this point to confront Heyden and cautiously admitted that they had given the horse water. Heyden again disparaged the horse, saying that “he was going to go back for it the next day, with ‘her’ favorite things, carrots and sugar cubes.”
Merrill and DeHart took note of Heyden’s large SUV and trailer license plates, which they gave to the sheriff’s department.

DeHart and Merrill had carpooled to the trailhead that day, and drove back to the supermarket parking lot in Stevensville to pick up DeHart’s truck and trailer. They were startled to see Heyden pull in on the other side of the lot at the same time that a Sheriff’s deputy found them. They pointed out Heyden to the deputy, who followed him across the road to a mini-storage facility.

Later, the three other sadly mistreated and emaciated horses were found in a makeshift pen between mini-storage units, and confiscated. The sheriff’s department asked the Bitter Root Humane Association to pick up and care for the animals.

DeHart and Merrill decided not to wait for the authorities and made plans to get the bay horse out. In a first attempt to rescue the horse, DeHart’s husband, Jay, walked six miles up the trail the night of August 1, in the dark, but was unable to find the horse.

The next day Merrill and her friend Mike Svaboda found the bay standing by the creek, whinnying a welcome. Merrill said that there was absolutely no grass in the area for the horse to eat. They had brought Bute (a pain killer), food, water and molasses, and a halter and lead rope. They began slowly coaxing the horse the six miles to the trailhead.

His rescuers quickly nicknamed the horse “Able,” in honor of his willingness. After about two miles, he would go no further. Merrill removed the clamp-on, cushioned boots from her own horse’s feet and put them on Able. Able reluctantly tested them, but then found his feet were eased enough to continue the rest of the way out, and for the trailer ride to the vet’s.
Stevensville District Ranger Bill Goslin recognized the name of the horse’s owner as soon as he was contacted as the District Ranger. He had met Curtis and his father at least three times previously.

Goslin says, “Curtis and Craig arrived in the valley with four horses in early June and were taken aback at the amount of snow still in the mountains. I met them first when they camped with the horses at Big Creek trailhead, and then had to move camp due to the horses eating all the available food.”

The men told Goslin that Curtis’ wife had recently died of cancer and the father and son had decided to make a wilderness “living off the land” trip together. Goslin warned the pair that grazing was limited in the Wilderness Area, and that they should not depend upon finding enough food for the animals. He also tried to help them with their packing system, which was wood bars secured to riding saddles and long bags hung from the bars to just a foot and a half off the ground. He showed them how to tie up the bags with a rope basket hitch onto the top and sides of the saddles, and to balance the load so that it would be easier on the horses.

Goslin next found the duo camped at Big Creek Lake in the wilderness on July 7. They had exceeded their 14 days legal camping limit, twice, and he was concerned about campsite damage. He gave them a warning ticket and enough time so that the pass into Idaho might clear of snow.
“They were always very polite,” Goslin explains, “and when I went back in on July 19, they were gone and the camp site was immaculate.”

The next time Goslin made contact with Curtis Heyden was after he rode out of Big Creek Trail on August 1. Heyden told Goslin he had “trotted down the trail until the horse couldn’t go any more.” Goslin estimated that the horses had traveled with Heyden about seventeen miles barefoot that day over rocky ground, before the pack horse gave out.

After being contacted by Merrill and told that the horse had been brought out, Goslin called Curtis Heyden and explained that the horse had been rescued and was at Blue Mountain Veterinary Clinic in Missoula, giving directions.
The Heydens did not contact the veterinary clinic or the animal shelter to find out how the horses were faring.

The Heydens were arraigned in Ravalli County Court before Judge James Bailey on August 13, 2008, where they posted a $10,000 bond each, and pled not guilty to four counts each of animal cruelty (a misdemeanor charge in Montana). Judge Bailey asked the men if they would like to donate money toward the veterinary bills and feed costs. They declined.
A pre-trial, omnibus hearing has been set for October 9. A judge, prosecutor, possibly the Heydens, and their lawyer will be present. The main purpose of the hearing will be to introduce evidence and testimony, present a plea agreement or set a trial date.

On August 14, Vicki Dawson, Bitter Root Humane Association Shelter Manager, said the horses were doing better, but their joints were still swollen, their feet still very tender, and the ulcerated eyes from biting flies were beginning to improve. The deep wounds from ill-fitting saddles and unevenly packed goods would be the last to heal, if ever. Jay DeHart, a natural barefoot horseshoer, had trimmed the horse’s hooves and donated padded boots to help them recover more comfortably.

“Our shelter may be the only one in Montana that takes horses, and the expense is so high that we are considering not doing it any longer,” Dawson explained. The shelter has been caring for two other horses that they are attempting to find homes for.

The Bitter Root Humane Association has received an ever growing response to the Rocky Mountain Rider story about the rescued horses. The horse community has stepped up and given so very much support to our small animal shelter caring for these four beautiful animals. Letters, emails and phone calls have come from within Montana and growing number from out of state. I have received emails from New York, phone calls from Colorado, Canada and Georgia to name a few, supportive notes from Utah, Oregon, Washington and Idaho and it grows every day.

The messages that convey everyone's best wishes and stories and yes, some anger and frustration over the whole situation, have helped my staff carry on through the long process of rehabilitating the horses. We have begun a scrapbook to record all the beautiful words that have come to us. All of these gestures make such a difference to our small staff of five. It will also make a difference to the volunteers who come in each day to help us clean up their area. And it will encourage us to not be afraid to take on the next case that comes along.

We now know we are not alone.

As of today, Sept. 20, the horses are gradually improving. They are putting weight back on even though old "Diamond" struggles more than the others. Their long term health is still in question, especially Diamond and Able. Able is back on his feet but still limps on the feet and legs that were almost ruined. The vet comes regularly to alter any instructions to the staff on their care. The wound on Diamond's back "would be difficult to heal"the vetsaid, but much to his delight, the staff has encouraged the wound to close to approximately 50% of its original size. He compliments the animal shelter staff for their diligence; they spend the majority of their day caring for 45+ dogs and 80+ cats and an aging facility. Thanks to a donor, we cross fenced our 2.65 acres in 2006, not knowing that it would be called on to handle critical care horse cases.

Diamond and Able's eyes are still a concern. The corneal ulcers caused by foraging for food over two and one half months, dehydration and being "down" are not improving. Despite staff coming in at 6 am in order to do the prescribed treatment every two hours for 12 hours, they are not healing. The good news? The renowned Dr. Roberts, Equine Ophthalmologist from Univ. of Colorado is in Montana this week and consented to drive the five hours from Bozemen to Hamilton to treat Diamond and Able's eyes TODAY. We await the news. Procedures may include surgery and we are raising the $1500 for the additional bill.

We are often asked what this is going to cost. I have to answer that I do not know. Able was at the vet for a whole month; BRHA has to pay that bill. We have much hay donated but will need more, Equine Senior supplements, but this week an additional 10 horses and 17 goats were seized by the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office and are now also in our custody. That is a lot of mouths to feed.We never know how long the court system will take to settle a case and the animalsremain in limbo and our responsibility to feed and make well. Any donations of hay or money will keep this shelter and its efforts toward the horses going. We are possibly the only regular animal shelter left in Montana that continues to take in equine cases.

I am very proud to be part of the dedication of Bitter Root Humane Association. Thank you to our Board of Directors for their committment to this shelter and its staff and animals. Thank you to staff members, shift supervisors Denise Glenn and Charlotte Springer for their long hours and dedication to the horses and other animals. Also thank you to staff member and trainer Jessica Hoyt for her expertise and willingness to work so hard. Brianna Chaffin and RJ Springer on the staff have also given their dedication as we all try to keep up with additional responsibilities.

Bitter Root Humane Association has been here for 23+ years and hopes to move to a larger facility with more acreagein its future. Being in the sheltering business we know one very important thing. Animals have an incredible capacity to forgive and heal and despite sometimes horrific circumstances they come out of their pain and give you love. Diamond gives great hugs!

Thank you to Rocky Mountain Rider for the coverage of this story. Thank you to the horse community everywhere for your support both financial and from your hearts. It makes a huge difference.

Thank goodness we are not alone.

Vicki Dawson, Operations Manager
Bitter Root Humane Association