Leachman horses to be removed from Crow Indian Reservation
February 11, 2011
Hundreds of privately owned horses roaming the Crow Indian Reservation east of Billings, MT, are scheduled to be removed according to a Feb. 2, 2011 solicitation notice posted by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The action comes in response to on-going infractions and complaints involving horses owned or managed by James H. Leachman.
Although the plight of the horses caught the public’s attention in late January 2011, neighboring ranchers and law enforcement agencies have been dealing with the situation for months, and in some cases, years. Approximately 700 animals – some suggest the number may be as high as 900 – have been roaming pastures, fields and Conservation Reserve Program acreage, competing for forage with other livestock and wildlife.
A series of news reports brought the condition of the horses into question prompting emergency feeding directed by the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office and organized by the Billings-based Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE). Initial reports suggested 450 horses owned by Leachman were in danger of death from starvation and dehydration on the property known as the Home Place Ranch.
In a statement released Jan. 28, Leachman laid the blame for the circumstances on the ranch’s new owners for moving the horses without his authorization; confining them in pastures without adequate forage. In a Feb. 7 phone interview, Leachman said there are approximately 150 aged mares in the herd that are thin. But, he maintains, if they had been left to roam, their conditions wouldn’t have been compromised.
Turk Stovall and his father, Jay, purchased the Home Place for $2.6 million at a bankruptcy sale conducted by the U.S. Marshal on July 15, 2010. Located 16 miles east of Billings, Leachman was leasing the property from the bankruptcy court at the time of the sale, raising horses under the Hairpin Cavvy name. The ranch is comprised of 9,400 deeded acres, plus 30,000 acres leased from the Crow Indian Reservation. Some of the leases formerly held by Leachman were cancelled as a result of noncompliance and nonpayment.
A second ranch that belonged to Leachman, the Hairpin Ranch, sold the same day. Located six miles east of Billings on Highway 87E, it was purchased by the Farm Service Agency for $1.1 million.
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The younger Stovall said approximately 500 head of Leachman’s horses have continued to graze on the Home Place property since the sale, as well as on lands operated by no fewer than five other individuals. Besides making it difficult to sustain their own livestock, Stovall expressed concern for the welfare of the horses.
Between Dec. 29, 2010 and Jan. 15, 2011, five horses were found dead on the ranch or were euthanized as directed by a veterinarian. The animals suffered from various fractures and injuries and in some cases, malnutrition. A total of 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty were brought against Leachman including failing to provide a horse with appropriate veterinary care and abandoning an animal.
Leachman argues that such injuries are to be expected raising horses in a natural environment. He coined the term “free but not wild” in describing his breeding program which he said is in sync with nature. Mares, many of them pregnant, are still nursing last year’s foals.
“We start pulling colts off the mares in May and June and foal in June and July,” he said. “The mares teach their colts how to forage and eat snow. When the spring grass comes in June, my horses are in better shape than those anywhere in the United States.”
Turk Stovall said he’s not discrediting Leachman’s livestock management, but feels an owner has a responsibility to his animals to live within his means. “A respectable rancher won’t abandon his stock. You can’t expect good things turning animals out on land you don’t own.”
Leachman said no specific arrangements were made the day of the foreclosure sale regarding the horses. Turk Stovall concurs, however he said he and his father, Jay, took full possession of the ranch that day, moving a hired hand into a home on the property. Leachman has repeatedly stated he hopes to redeem the property on or before the first anniversary of the sale.
Whether or not he’s able to make that happen, the horses will likely be gone by then. Applications to capture approximately 700 horses from the Crow Reservation are due Feb. 11, 2011. The synopsis stipulates the animals be held until they are redeemed or offered for public sale. Leachman contemplated holding a sale last September, but citing the depressed horse market, opted to leave them on area pastures.
Between 1973 and 2003, Leachman and his family built Leachman Cattle Company into one of the world’s most respected beef cattle seed stock operations. As many as 3,000 bulls were sold annually. There was an international franchise that spanned South America; embryos were shipped to New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and the U.K. That operation was liquidated due to financial and legal troubles. In 2003, a court-appointed receiver was put in charge of the ranch.
In 2002, Leachman redirected his focus to raising registered quarter horses, marketing hundreds of horses in a year. In recent years, some purchasers reported problems obtaining registration papers because Leachman failed to file necessary reports and/or was in the arrears with the American Quarter Horse Association.