State vet explains his decision about horses shown in controversial photos

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Horses on Norman Riley’s property in Madison County. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

REXBURG — Deputy state veterinarian Dr. Scott Leibsle stands by his evaluation of horses owned by a local rancher who has recently come under fire by many who say he is neglecting his animals.

Norman Riley, 70, owns at least 30 horses on property along Archer Road near Rexburg. Earlier this week, his treatment of his horses came under fire after Natalie Childs, a Brigham Young University-Idaho student from South Carolina, posted photos to a community page on Facebook.

The photos show several horses that appear neglected or injured. In the post, Childs accuses Riley of not feeding his horses and neglecting their care. Since the complaint was posted on Facebook, an online petition has been created in an attempt to get law enforcement to take action against Riley. The petition has more than 2,000 signatures.

Riley stands by the condition of his horses and on Thursday, EastIdahoNews.com interviewed the state veterinarian who gave his stamp of approval on the animals.

Leibsle specifically spoke about several horses that appear in the photographs posted by Childs. One photo was of a 23-year-old thoroughbred black mare that was so skinny its ribs can be plainly seen. When EastIdahoNews.com visited Norman’s property along Archer Road Wednesday, that horse was on the property.

“The horse was a little bit skinny but ultimately, was the animal suffering? I don’t believe so,” Leibsle said. “… He’s got a lot of horses out there and the vast majority of them are in reasonable condition.”

Leibsle visit to the property was on June 16. He received a call from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office requesting his assistance after they had received complaints about the animals. He checked over 30 horses owned by Riley and found their care to be “reasonable” and fitting state standards of care for companion animals, which Riley’s horses are classified as. He says each horse received a score dependent on their condition and care.

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During his evaluation of Riley’s property, Leiblse confirmed the horses had sufficient access to food and water and that they were adequately cared for. Following the online uproar this week, Leiblse sent an investigator from his office to see if anything had changed. Leiblse said that it hadn’t.

“That mare was looked at and the animal did not appear to be injured, did not appear to be suffering,” Leiblse said. “It is a little more on the skinny side, I agree, but otherwise having an animal that is a little under-condition, especially one that is a little bit older, is not a violation of the animal care statute.”

During his interview with EastIdahoNews.com, Riley admits that the black horse is old, but doesn’t believe it should be put down.

Leiblse said he understands the outcry from the Facebook post and he has talked to a few of the complainants personally. He said it is his job as a veterinarian and the job of the trained animal care investigators to make judgments on proper care, presence of enough food and water and condition of the animals. If animals are not being cared for under the law, he says they then take “more aggressive” steps to ensure animal care or their removal from the owner.

“Because the property is maybe in a bigger state of disrepair than the average horse farm – that’s not necessarily a violation of the law,” Leiblse said. “Are the animals getting enough care – that is the question.”

Horses on Norman Riley’s property. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

The other most controversial photo was a grey horse that appeared to be walking on an apparent broken ankle. When EastIdahoNews.com visited the property Wednesday, that horse was not there. Leiblse said during his June visit, he did not see the horse on Riley’s property.

“That horse would have stood out in a crowd had it been there when I was there,” Leiblse said. “I asked about it and Mr. Riley reported that horse was donated or adopted by someone else … He said he was no longer in possession or custody of that horse.”

The photo of that horse was posted on Tuesday, but since the horse has not been on the ranch for nearly a month, it’s not clear when the picture was taken. When asked about the origins of the photos, Childs said a friend had taken them. That friend didn’t respond to questions from EastIdahoNews.com.

Riley told EastIdahonews.com that he had recently given two lame horses to a woman who came to his property and wanted to care for them.

A video of a horse Natalie Childs says her friend removed from Norman Riley’s property. The Deputy State Veterinarian said he did not see that horse in Norman Riley’s possession when he visited on June 16. | Facebook video

After reviewing his investigation, Leiblse passed his recommendation to local law enforcement who, under Idaho Law, are the only responsible parties who can decide if a violation of the law took place. Sgt. Isaac Payne with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday they received a complaint about Riley’s horses a few weeks ago and called out the State Veterinarians Office for an expert recommendation.

“They came out and inspected and found the level of care to be within their state-approved perimeters,” Payne said Wednesday. “They did offer some recommendations.”

Lieblse said those recommendations were to feed the horses that struggled to maintain weight separate from the rest of the herd so they don’t have to fight for food.

Payne says the sheriff’s office follows the recommendations of the state veterinarian and as of now Riley has not been cited.

“We would like to caution anyone considering taking this matter into their own hands,” Payne said Wednesday. “Vigilante justice will not improve this matter. We ask for the community’s support as we reach a resolution through lawful means.”

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