Horses go hungry while ranchers' dispute goes through court system

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 4:10 p.m. MST

The Smokey Mountain Ranch in Utah County is struggling to keep its horses fed. They are hoping to keep them alive until spring, when they can put the horses out on the grass. On Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, the horses are eating hay provided by ranch owners Trudy and Rory Childs.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — About 100 horses at the Smokey Mountain Ranch near Spanish Fork and Mapleton are in a snow field, and most of them are not getting enough to eat.

About a dozen or so have already died.

"They're hungry," said Trudy Childs, who runs the ranch with her son Rory Childs. "We're hoping to make it until spring, until we can put them out on the grass."

Every day, Rory Childs wakes up and wonders how he's going to get enough money to feed his family's horses.

"Every dollar I make is going to just try and keep the feed coming," Childs said. The horses each need to eat about 30 to 40 pounds of hay a day to gain weight. It costs between $1,500 and $2,000 a week to feed them all.

Once spring comes and the grass starts growing, the burden will be eased. But until then, the mother and son, who have been in the ranching business for more than 30 years, are faced with the reality that they are almost out of money to feed the animals.

To save money, Rory Childs, his wife and newborn son are living with a friend. His mother is living with a friend as well. Some people have suggested selling a few of the horses to pay for food for the other horses, but they can't. 

"We can't move them or sell them or even give them away until the lawsuit is settled," Rory Childs said.

"Last year, the Childs wanted to save some money and cut ranch costs, so they signed a contract with another rancher, Justin Barrow, to help keep and feed their horses.

"It's sad how this is all turning out," said Barrow, who helps run Barrow Land and Livestock in Weber County. "We love horses, and we were just trying to help while looking at what we thought was a good business opportunity."

However, the business deal turned sour this past fall when the Childses complained that Barrow wasn't taking care of their horses.

"We felt like they weren't living up to their side of the contract," Rory Childs said. "Our horses looked like they were in real poor condition."

Barrow said he had the horses thoroughly inspected by a veterinarian when they took them in. At the time, Barrow said the horses were in poor condition, but he insisted they are doing fine now.

The quarrel between the Childses and Barrow doesn't end there; Barrow claims the Childses haven't paid him for months of feeding the horses. Because of that, he decided to sell a few at an auction to raise money to feed the others.

"We've still not received one dime of payment, and they're trying to make it look like we didn't care for them. And that's not the truth," Barrow said. He said he is owed more than $100,000.

Before the auction took place, the Childses started asking for their horses back. But Barrow said he and the Childses signed a lien on the horses, meaning they would stay with Barrow until the Childses could pay him.

"That's when they snuck onto our property and took most of the rest of the mares," Barrow alleged.

The Childses' account of what happened is a little different. They said they took some of their horses back after the Forest Service called them and reported the horses were on public land near the Utah-Idaho border in Cache County.

Barrow's family does own a ranch in Logan Canyon and he said he brought the horses there to help them get back to health. He admitted some of the horses got away, but said it happens occasionally.

While the Childses weren't aware their horses were so far north, they took action to take back some of the animals. That's when the two families filed a lawsuit against one another.

Both sides claim the other party violated the contract: the Childses claim Barrow didn't take good care of the horses, while Barrow claims the Childses took the horses without being paid according to their contract.

The Childses are trying to sell horses that are not part of the dispute and giving horse-riding lessons to try to make ends meet.

The lawsuit will be settled in court. Meanwhile, the horses will continue to be hungry. The Childses said about a dozen have already died.

"It's the horses who have been hurt in all of this," Trudy Childs said.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

Twitter: ksl_alexcabrero

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