A Santa Clara County judge ordered a convicted horse abuser to pay $113,000 in restitution to rescue groups that cared for the animals seized from his ranch last year.
Humberto Rivas Uribe, 52, appeared in a South County courtroom last week in shackles and a navy blue jail jumpsuit. With eyes averted downward, he listened as a court translator relayed the ruling in Spanish.
The Morgan Hill rancher was sentenced to three months in jail and five years of probation, according to the Morgan Hill Times. For the next decade, he cannot own or care for an animal. The $113,446.26 in restitution, which he agreed to pay by installments, will go to the following groups:
- PAWS4SJACS: $3,600
- Monterey SPCA: $32,091
- Redwing Sanctuary: $12,790.90
- Dreamer Ranch: $10,500
- REINS: $12,054.56
- Pregnant Mare Rescue: $22,800
- ERC: $5,500
- San Martin Animal Shelter: $6,156.80
- Horses Healing Hearts: $7,953
In January, Uribe pleaded guilty to felony animal cruelty after authorities took 38 sickly horses from his two South County properties. Many of the mares were pregnant. Others had worms, gashes, infections, exposed ribs and other ailments. Virtually all were malnourished.
The rescue was unprecedented in scope for Santa Clara County’s Animal Care and Control. It also highlighted a dilemma faced by many jurisdictions—that the cost of enforcing animal cruelty laws often prevents agencies from taking action.
Neighbors who called attention to the abuse and followed the case as it unfolded in court called last week’s payback settlement a huge win. The money will be divided among nine rescue groups in several counties. Trina Hineser, who lives across the street from Uribe’s Morgan Hill property, wrote a letter to Judge Edward Lee urging the court to seize his assets to pay down the settlement.
“This is absolutely setting a precedent not only for our community but for California as we deal with other cases like this,” Hineser told San Jose Inside.
She applauded Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Ellis for bringing a swift resolution to the case.
Meanwhile, horse advocates have spent this past year pushing for new policies to prevent future abuse. But their calls for reform have been met with resistance. Though the county’s Animal Care and Control office has made several changes in the way it deals with horse abuse, the public has been unable to weigh in.
Last November, Humans 4 Horses, a group led by Katrina Loera, asked the county’s Animal Advisory Board to place a discussion about the Morgan Hill horse case on a future agenda. The commission, which meets every other month and briefs the county Board of Supervisors on animal issues, told her to come back in January. But her presentation was never placed on the agenda. The same thing happened in March.
Frustrated by the lack of headway, Loera sent an email to all county supervisors trying to rally an audience for the May meeting, when she planned to speak. But the advisory board canceled that, too, for lack of a quorum.
Loera couldn’t make it to the July meeting, so the item got postponed to September. Unfortunately, on July 30, she was thrown from a horse and knocked into a coma. Her family says she may never return to work, let alone recover in time for her presentation.
The South County horse community has rallied around Loera, an art teacher at LeyVa Middle School in San Jose. Friends launched a crowdfunding campaign to offset some of her hospital bills, chipping in more than $18,000 to date.
As of today, Loera is awake and slowly becoming more aware of her surroundings. Once she’s off her feeding tube, her husband, Stephen Gordy, will move her to an acute rehab facility. Her family has started a Facebook page dedicated to her recovery.
“She tried so hard to get her message out,” Hineser said. “I don’t understand why they made this such a difficult process.”
Loera wanted to ask the county, on behalf of other horse advocates, why it took so long to do something about Uribe’s malnourished herds.
Uribe had a years-long track record of mistreating horses. Authorities in the Central Valley and the South Bay repeatedly cited him for the abuse, but always gave him another chance. Unlike at most law enforcement agencies, animal control officers generally try to work with people rather than elevating an incident to a criminal case.
The problem with Uribe came to a head in September 2014, when Hineser and other neighbors started a Facebook page to post photos of the underfed horses. Images of bony mares and their frail foals garnered media attention and interest from prosecutors. A month later, the rancher was arrested and charged.
Because the county lacked the resources and the physical space to accommodate dozens of rescued horses, they relied on a multi-county network of nonprofit rescues and private citizens to help.
As one of several people who volunteered to care for some of the rescues, Loera wanted to talk about the aftermath—how the community had to pick up the slack for authorities ill-equipped to deal with so many large animals. Ultimately, she wanted to share her ideas on how to improve the way animal control manages neglected and abused horses.
It’s unclear who will deliver the advisory board presentation in her place next month.
With help from the DA, animal control has issued a new protocol for investigating horse abuse cases, according to county spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell. Under the new rules, animal control officers will consistently gather and report all pertinent information when abuse is suspected or reported during the initial evaluation. They will also follow up to check on the horses instead of citing and closing a case.
Part of the problem that led to Uribe’s abuse going unchecked for years is that the agency failed to connect separate reports over the years into a comprehensive case.
Albert Escobar, head of animal control, has also sent two of his officers to University of California, Davis, for training on how to handle horse abuse cases. Others will be sent, as time and funding permit. Escobar will also hire a couple more animal control officers, upping the number to five by 2016.
In 2015 alone, animal control has fielded 50 horse abuse calls. Forty-five were welfare calls, including reports of horses stuck in a fence, illegally tethered, undernourished or without water.
Most of those cases have been closed, according to Mitchell. But several more remain under investigation, and six have gone to court since the start of this year.
Below is a letter Loera sent to county supervisors this past spring:
Not So Happily Ever After: The Aftermath of Neglected and Abused Horses
When word of the Morgan Hill/Gilroy herd Facebook page launched, we knew that they needed the help of the equine community, so we stepped in.
Since ACC was doing nothing to assist in the seizure, rescue, and placement of these horses, we worked side by side with the Center Horse advocates and San Martin Animal shelter to ensure each horse found a safe rescue, sanctuary, foster or forever home. The whole thing was a huge debacle because of ACC’s negligence in addressing this case. Horses were taken off of the property, new horses appeared on the property, the director of ACC gave horses away…and most horses did not end up in rescues in Santa Clara County.
We decided that with the help of a few friends, we could take on one of the pregnant mares. That’s when Cinder came into our lives. We called her Cinderbelly because of her pregnant belly.
Cinder and several other horses from this herd used to belong to a local breeder in the performance horse industry. Most of these horses were registered Quarter Horses with outstanding pedigree and careers in the cutting industry. CinCin as we called her, was officially Cindertella on her registration documents, and she was 19 and pregnant. She had a successful career as a cutting horse, but eventually this sport wore her down. They turned her into a broodmare for years, producing foal after foal, year after year, but even that wasn’t enough for her owners. Eventually, they discarded her and that’s how she wound up with the MH/Gilroy herd. Rivas was a well-known local horse trader … a convenient place to dump a used up horse, where she would have lived out her days pregnant and neglected and eventually off to slaughter.
Cinder’s story began the day she was born to a 23-year-old mare, who died after her birth. That’s why they named her Cinder; she too was an orphan. A horse in her 20s should never be bred, in fact, horses older than 15 are at greater risk and cannot safely be bred. But greed and ignorance in these industries continue to push the limits.
Like so many of the horses from this herd, Cin came to us pregnant, her conception date unknown due to the fact that this herd was living with numerous stallions and mares together on a small lot on Center Avenue.
Cin got the best care she could get in the months following her departure from Center Avenue. Her board was $315 per month for her to stay at Lakeview Stables in San Jose. The first thing we did was have a vet out to assess her. She was not only pregnant, but had a significant limp that after X-rays was found to be caused by Navicular, a debilitating syndrome in horses, and fused hocks most likely the result of the physical demands of being a cutting horse. The extra weight of her foal made her very uncomfortable so we purchased special boots for her to ease some of the pain. Cin adjusted to her new life at Lakeview. The owners agreed to let us build her a stall and a paddock on the hill where she and her new foal would live safely. The owner agreed to pay for half of her new home, which was well over $3,000. We called it Cinder’s Palace.
As the months went by, Cinder had many fairy-godparents who cleaned her stall, fed her lunch, and spent time getting to know her. When Cinder came to us, she would pin her ears at people who approached and threaten to bite or kick them. She didn’t trust humans, but within a short time at Lakeview, with the love of this horse community, Cinder quickly realized that living with humans wasn’t so bad. As her belly grew, so did her love of her new life.
All along, we knew Cinder was at risk. She was neglected for months with Rivas, she was almost 20, and she could have been bred to a Friesian, a horse much larger than her. We began to worry about her size based on her history. The vet looked at her on a regular basis, but there wasn’t much we could do but wait. We moved from our home in downtown San Jose to a camper on the ranch to keep an eye on her.
Our daily routine included taking her for walks, letting her graze, and feeding and grooming her. She loved to roll in sand arena, but even this was becoming too difficult for her. I still cherish the times I spent braiding her hair as she grazed on the hillside. She loved her life at Lakeview, and we loved her.
On April 1, just before midnight, Cinder finally delivered a very large, very healthy filly. The delivery was quick and all seemed well. We were relieved, but this relief did not last long. Within hours CinCin started showing signs of distress. We rushed her to Steinbeck where she received several transfusions due to a ruptured uterine artery … a relatively common complication in older mares. She was bleeding internally. The entire Steinbeck staff worked with her all day on April 2, but by 7pm, we realized she was dying. She fought all day to stay alive, getting up time and time again, calling to her foal. But they couldn’t save her. I can still see the pain and longing in her eyes … she’d fought so hard to deliver her foal despite the neglect and abuse she’d suffered. We were devastated at the loss of our beautiful mare, and left with an orphaned foal and a huge vet bill. We decided to name her Belle because after all, she was Cinder’s belly.
Cinder’s foal, Belle, stayed at the hospital a couple of days to ensure she was healthy. The staff at Steinbeck wanted to be sure that Cinder’s foal would thrive. We brought her home and added doors to her stall to keep her safe … without a mare to protect her, predators in the area could get into her paddock. She required round the clock care with feedings every two hours. We managed to recruit our Lakeview family to help with the feedings and care of Belle that will go on for several months. We were able to find an older mare at the ranch to look after her in her stall and teach her how to be a horse. But Belle is still an orphan … no person or horse can replace her mom.
Belle is a very healthy young filly who reminds us of her beautiful mother. She will grow up in our care and she will never go hungry, she will never be pushed to perform more that she is physically able, and she will never be bred. But raising an orphan foal is never easy; she will require a lot of extra time and effort. Her formula alone is averaging over $500 per month.
This is the story of just one of the horses from the Morgan Hill/Gilroy herd. We have spent thousands of dollars trying to care for and eventually trying to save Cinder and her foal … only to fail her. We have spent countless hours rehabilitating and caring for this mare and her foal because we have a broken system that refused to recognize the need for tougher laws and enforcement. We have had to temporarily move from our home in San Jose to live in a trailer on the ranch so that we can care for this foal. Our lives have been turned upside down because we don’t have laws to protect our horses, because there are no limits to the number of horses people keep, there are no laws governing breeding, there is no enforcement even when horses are starving to death.
We are going to continue to spread Cinder and Belle’s story until those in authority start to listen. Laws must change. Horse abuse and neglect and reckless breeding are out of control. We cannot continue to expect the horse community to pick up the pieces. It has to be controlled at a state and county level.
The ACC records proved that they knew about this man’s abuse for years. Photos of abused and dead horses were documented for years, yet this man was allowed to continue breeding horses without any penalty. Had this county stepped in, Cinder’s story might have ended happily ever after. Belle would not be an orphan. We are sad, we are angry, we are exhausted, and we are broke … and this is just the story of one of these horses … this is just one case.
We must change the way we manage our horses in this county. We need to have our own county rescue and partnership so that we can take in horses needing help sooner. These horses should not be the responsibility of rescues, of fosters, of individuals. The county let this escalate. We must enforce the law immediately and punish those who abuse animals in this county. ACC did not do the job they were paid to do. ACC allowed this to happen under their watch. It is time to reform ACC.