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N4T Investigators: Cases of horse abuse "like never before" as hay prices surge

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Desert Springs Equestrian

MARANA, Ariz. (KVOA) - Out in the Marana countryside there is a sanctuary, where many abused horses and other livestock come to live their lives in comfort. 

It's called the Desert Springs Equestrian Center and its staff is seeing a concerning trend like they never have before.

Ranch manager Abby Sancineto showed the News 4 Tucson Investigators around the property and the dozens of horses and donkeys she said they have rescued the last few months.

"I would say at least 150 of them were saved from an abusive home or horrible death," Sancineto said.

Abuse and neglect isn't anything new but Sancineto said they have never seen so many cases of it like they have this summer. Sancineto said it's no secret why, she blames surging hay prices and a dwindling supply.

She said that leaves many horse owners in a position of not wanting to spend the money to properly keep their horses feed and it doesn't take long for the horse to suffer.

She showed us one of the horses they recently rescued, found abandoned at a nearby property. We could see the horses rib cage and he clearly looked under fed, Sancineto said he was much worse not long before our visit.

"He was about 100 pounds skinnier than this you could see every bone in his body," she said.

They are also seeing more cases of horses being sold at auction, which she said almost never turns out well for the horses. More often than not she said the horses are brought to Mexico where they get slaughtered for their meat.

"If I was to list this horse for $300, I'd have someone pick him up within the hour and he'd be on his way to Mexico where they would get $1.05 a pound for his meat," she explained.

She said horse owners should avoid selling their horses for under $1,000 because anything less are prime prices for people looking to butcher them.

Cindy Butierrez is President of the Heart of Tucson Happy Equine Acres Rescue and Therapy which often helps out Desert Springs. She said it's a problem only getting worse.

"The neglects out there it's just going to get worse because most people don't know what to do in that position when they can't sell their horse but yet they can't feed it enough so they keep letting it decline and decline in their backyard," Butierrez said.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators found several local listings online for horses sold cheap, their future uncertain.

Lisa Hansen stopped by Desert Springs for the first time hoping to make a difference.

"It's heart wrenching when I drove up here today, I kind of knew what to expect but then you see the ribs and how unfortunate their situation is and to see this angel who is taking care of them," Hansen said.

If you would like to help Desert Springs with donations or help volunteer contact Abby at 520-272-5931.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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