Spanish Fork • It was enough to make him want to cry.
As Deputy Sean Peterson of the Utah County Sheriff's Office checked on a herd of reportedly malnourished horses, Peterson could see for himself just how bad off the animals were. Ribs and hip bones were visible under their skin, and nearby trees had been stripped of bark after the horses gnawed them clean.
Peterson focused on a 6- to 8-month-old colt that was too weak to stand. Some horses were already dead. Others wouldn't make it through the night.
"It was sad," Peterson said Tuesday.
The damage was still evident three days after Trudy Childs, 59, and her son, Rory Childs, 31, were arrested by Utah County deputies, each of them on suspicion of 31 counts of livestock at large and 101 counts of cruelty to animals. Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the Childses have a history with the sheriff's office for their horses being out of their pastures. But this is the first case of alleged animal cruelty involving the mother and son, Cannon said. Sheriff Jim Tracy said the case was among the worst he'd seen in more than 30 years.
On Wednesday, deputies found more than 100 horses in at least four different pastures near Spanish Fork, Mapleton and Spanish Fork Canyon. At least four were dead buried in a hastily dug mass grave on one property, according to deputies. Another two died shortly after they were discovered, and authorities believe more could be dead and buried elsewhere.
Deputies will provide water and feed to the surviving animals until the case is resolved. Other concerned citizens also have been donating feed.
"These horses will not go hungry on our watch," Cannon said.
The Childses are simultaneously dealing with civil and criminal cases related to their horses.
In October, Linda Barrow and her son Justin Barrow sued the Childses over alleged missed payments for the Barrows' services of boarding and feeding the Childses' horses. Also that fall, the two families got into an argument over who had a right to the animals, which ended with the Childses taking at least 60 horses from the Barrows' property in Weber County and relocating them on their land in Utah County. Prior to that altercation, the Barrows had filed a lien on the horses and claimed possession of them until their payments were received.
In response to the suit, the Childses alleged that the horses' malnourishment was the fault of the Barrows, who had been boarding their horses in Weber County since November 2011. They claimed in October 2012 that the Barrows weren't feeding the horses as they had agreed.
"We're getting blamed for them being in poor condition," Rory Childs said Tuesday. "[The charges were] a little surprising, but we were worried about that happening."
The Barrows are suing for $55,000 they say the Childses owe them. They put a lien on the horses and intended to sell them to recoup some of the money, but now they worry that many of those horses won't be worth anything.
Dean Barrow, who is Linda Barrow's husband, said the malnourishment began after the Childses took their horses from Weber County. Dean and his son Justin were at the animal shelter in Spanish Fork on Tuesday to look at one horse that had been seized by Utah County authorities and was recuperating. The year-old colt was among the worst the deputies found. Dean Barrow said he was shocked to see it in such a state. "I didn't have any idea they were bringing them down here and starving them."
"It makes you sick," Justin Barrow added.
But Justin Barrow also has been charged in Roy/Weber Justice Court with 15 counts of cruelty to an animal, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He said the charges were filed after the Childses found an animal control officer who believed their story about the Barrows' alleged mistreatment.
Barrow is schedule to appear in court Wednesday on the charges, but said he is confident they eventually will be dropped. Barrow said he has veterinary reports to prove his family took care of those horses.
"[The Childses] have lied and fabricated this thing…to get out of a bill," Justin Barrows said. "Karma has now caught up with them, their lies and their deceit."
Cannon said the Childses are due Monday in 4th District Court.
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How to help
O The Utah County Sheriff's Office hopes to sell a group of malnourished horses to good homes once civil and criminal cases are resolved. In the meantime, the sheriff's office will feed the animals. Anyone who would like to help can send donations through the Southern Utah Valley Animal Shelter. > suvas.org