Appeals Court Creates New Type of Horse

scales_of_justiceThings have gotten interesting on the Placitas horse front. In a previous post, we covered the New Mexico Second District Court’s July 2014 decision in the case of Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) versus the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB).* In that ruling, the Court said that the free-roaming horses in Placitas are “livestock” like any other horses and subject to existing state laws regarding estray livestock.

Under the livestock code, property owners who pen trespassing livestock are required to notify the NMLB and use its estray livestock procedures. That agency posts public notices about any estray livestock found, and if the animal is unclaimed, may sell it at public auction.

But that was then, and this is now. In August, The New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned the District Court ruling. It ruled that if a free-roaming horse in Placitas is proved to be “unowned and undomesticated,” that horse would not be considered “livestock”, but would be an “unowned and undomesticated” horse. That’s a brand new, never-before-seen category of critter, legally speaking. By removing their status as livestock, any free-roaming horses in Placitas that are “unowned and undomesticated” (except those on certain public lands) now have the same legal status as jack rabbits and coyotes.

As a result of the Court of Appeals ruling, someone who pens one of these non-livestock, unowned, undomesticated horses on their private property now becomes the owner of the horse as soon as it is captured, under the common law doctrine of property, ratione soli (but does need to notify NMLB and get proper documents). Since the horse is not livestock, NMLB does not, and cannot, post a public notice, take responsibility for the horse, or auction it publicly. That makes life easier for NMLB, but a little harder for the property owner, who no longer has NMLB to help them out. He or she has to take full responsibility for their new horse, either keeping and caring for it or selling or giving it away.

It’s entirely possible the ruling will make it easier for so-called “kill buyers” (people who buy horses in order to sell them for slaughter) to get their hands on horses, so we don’t think WHOA has done the horses any favors with this ruling. In another post, we’ll look more closely at what the new ruling does and doesn’t mean.

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*Disclosure: The editors of this blog, together with other Placitas residents, were parties to the lawsuit, WHOA v. NMLB, joining as intervenors in support of NMLB, private property rights, and public safety.

Disclaimer: We’re not lawyers and the information provided on this blog should not be construed as legal advice. If you have questions concerning livestock or free-roaming horses, contact the NM Livestock Board and/or consult a qualified attorney.