AZTEC — Earlier this week, Four Corners Equine Rescue in Aztec took in three emaciated mares and a filly from the state livestock board.

And now the organization needs help paying for their care.

The rescue group received the horses on Tuesday, said organization director Debbie Coburn.

The horses were part of a roundup of 12 horses two weeks ago on U.S. Forest Service land near Cuba. Nine of the horses had identifiable branding marks and their owners were located.

But three mares — two of which are close to delivering foals of their own — and the filly went unclaimed. Coburn is now closely monitoring them in borrowed horse pens at the San Juan County Sheriff's Posse Arena. Their sunken faces and protruding rib cages are clear indications of starvation and stress.

"These are not wild horses. They belong to somebody," Coburn said as she filled wash tubs with nutritional feed for the horses. "These ladies didn't ask for the circumstances they find themselves in. Irresponsible horse owners are the culprits."

Coburn named the foal Carma and her mother, Pamona. The mother and daughter, as well as the two pregnant mares, Ruth and Shanti, slowly sampled hay and feed that Coburn and fellow volunteer Kelly Klemm set out for them.

"Ruth and Carma have respiratory problems, and Ruth has a rear leg that she drags, and she eats very little, which may be because of an oral infection," Coburn said. "We'll know more when the vet (Joe Quintana from nearby Animal Haven Clinic) comes to see them."

Until then, Coburn needs help paying for feed, hoof care and vaccinations. Pregnant mares or mares with foals require twice as much food as other horses. Shots cost around $100.

Volunteers from Coburn's organization are caring for 16 other rescued horses at the Sheriff's Posse Arena, along with 52 horses Coburn and her husband support at their 5-acre home in Flora Vista.
A foal named Carma stands next to its mother Pamona.
A foal named Carma stands next to its mother Pamona. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

Last year, the Equine Rescue found homes for 30 horses, a record high in the nine years since Coburn founded the organization.

Between 80,000 and 130,000 U.S. horses are sent out of the county to slaughter each year. Nine out of 10 horses sent to slaughter arrive in good condition, capable of full, healthy lives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"If gathered horses are not adopted, they are sold at auction and inevitably end up in the slaughter pipeline' to cruel deaths in Mexico," Coburn said.

Without regulation or oversight, horses face death, most often by the puntilla-knife method, which, according to the Humane Society of the United States, leaves a horse unable to move or breathe before it is hoisted up, drained of blood and dismembered — all while conscious.
Kelly Klemm, a volunteer for Four Corners Equine Rescue, attempts to entice rescued mare, Ruth, with horse feed at the San Juan County Sheriff’s
Kelly Klemm, a volunteer for Four Corners Equine Rescue, attempts to entice rescued mare, Ruth, with horse feed at the San Juan County Sheriff's Posse Arena on Thursday, April 4, 2013. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

Last year, the animal rights group Animals' Angels filmed undercover videos of emaciated horses unable to stand at a feedlot where the horses are sometimes sold for slaughter. Shortly after, Coburn and a team of volunteers organized a "Spring the Mares" campaign that saved 32 pregnant or sickly mares from a feedlot in Los Lunas, N.M., by buying them by the pound, or roughly $300 per horse.

"We're fighting an uphill battle against people who accept slaughtering practices or allowing horses to be left to starve," Coburn said. "Cruelty, abuse and neglect are rife within the slaughter industry and conflicts with our country's morals and ethics."

Coburn sees preventing mare pregnancies as a smart first step.

"Population control is the right direction, but killing the horses kills the victims," she said. "Gelding (castrating) the stallions will help."

Recently, the U.S. Forest Service rounded up seven wild mustangs, currently in holding pens in Bloomfield. Another seven wait unclaimed in Tierra Amarilla, near Chama.

"The rescue efforts need to continue to grow," Coburn said. "We have a lot of work to do, but I won't ever stop on behalf of these animals. How could we not do this?"

Go to for information about Four Corners Equine Rescue and how to donate to the cause.

James Fenton can be reached at; 505-564-4621. Follow him on Twitter @fentondt.