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Horses not mistreated at Wills Ranch, police conclude

FORT WORTH -- There is no evidence that three horses used by the police mounted patrol were abused or neglected at a private boarding ranch, according to a report issued Friday by the Police Department.

But the department is looking into changing the way it cares for the horses. It is negotiating with a group of business leaders who donated the horses to the mounted patrol and raised concerns about their welfare.

Betty Wills, owner of Wills Ranch, said she and her ranch staff are glad to be exonerated of the allegations of mistreatment.

"This has all been very detrimental to a 40-year reputation; a family name was at stake," Wills said. "We were willing to bend over backward to help our mounted patrol and their horses. It just saddens me that we got caught in the middle of this."

Horses moved in May

Three of the mounted patrol's 15 horses were moved to Wills Ranch in May for "turnout," or a rest period. The move came after the department ended a long-standing agreement that allowed the mounted patrol's trainer to keep the horses at his ranch.

Mounted patrol officers delivered the horses to Wills Ranch on May 16 and checked on them regularly. They reported that the horses had bite marks and broken skin, which may have been caused by other horses establishing a "pecking order." That is considered normal behavior, Wills and police agreed.

By the end of May, a mounted patrol sergeant asked his captain how to get more feed for the horses, along with fans in their stalls. They also reported instances in which water buckets in the stalls were empty.

On June 2, the mounted patrol's veterinarian examined the horses and reported that they had lost between 100 and 150 pounds. The next day, the mounted patrol support group removed the horses and took them to another pasture.

No complaints about ranch

Wills said the horses didn't arrive in great shape. She told police that the water buckets may have been empty because the staff was still in the process of delivering water to the barns.

Wills said police told her that the horses were not weighed before arriving at the ranch and that the weight-loss reports were approximations.

One of her other boarders, Vicki Ferree, said that she saw the horses shortly after they arrived and before they left and that "they seemed to be gaining weight and had improved in health and look."

No complaints about the ranch have ever been reported to the Humane Society of North Texas, an agency official said. The police report concluded, "No evidence was found in the preliminary investigation into the treatment of mounted horses ... indicating their abuse or neglect by ranch staff."

Possible changes

Acting Police Chief Pat Kneblick declined to answer questions about the report. She is scheduled to discuss the results with the City Council on Tuesday.

The report said department officials are scheduled to meet with the mounted patrol supporters and clarify the relationship between the support group and the patrol.

They may also discuss hiring a neutral veterinarian; the vet who examined the horses in June also does work for some of the support group members. Bids may also be taken for a new turnout facility, including more specific language about fly control, feedings and other conditions.