The Floyd County Sheriff's Department is investigating the deaths of numerous horses that appear to have been shot on a strip job in Floyd County.
Sheriff John Hunt and Sgt. Kevin Shepherd report that the preliminary investigation revealed that at least 13 horses have confirmed dead on the strip mine, which runs from the border of Pike County to the Buffalo, Cow Creek and Daniels Creek areas.
"We suspect in the range of 15, maybe 20," Hunt said Tuesday morning. "The exact number, we don't know, but we do know that some are dead. The means of death, we don't know. We're going today to do something to find out what's caused the deaths, if it's gunshots or whatever." Hunt said a horse owner came into his office with photos on Monday, reporting that five of his horses and were among 15 to 20 horses that had been killed on the strip mine.
Hunt said the horses are located on a strip mine where Daniels Creek and Cow Creek meet on the hillside. An early morning attempt to access the strip mine from the Banner area left deputies stuck for a while on the hillside, Hunt said, and the department decided to try later in the day from a location in Cow Creek, using ATVs and UTVs.
He said deputies spent most of Tuesday morning attempting to gain access to the strip mine location, to confirm those deaths, but rainy weather made travel difficult up the hillside.
He said a person sent by the sheriff's department on Monday evening confirmed the death of 12 horses, but he had to leave the area after it got dark. On Tuesday afternoon, he said officials found 10 horses on the strip mine that appeared to have been shot and they were searching for a "pod" of six or seven horses also reported to have been killed there. He said most of the horses were "scattered out."
"We've rounded up several horses that we can confirmed are dead. They appeared to have been shot dead," Hunt said. "You'll find one or two here and then you'll find a pod of three or four of them. They're scattered out."
On Wednesday morning, Shepherd reported that officials confirmed the death of 13 horses that appear to have been shot on the strip mine. He reported, however, that the horse owner claims they have found 21 horses dead there, and the sheriff's department planned to return to the strip mine on Wednesday to locate the others.
The department is working with Dumas Rescue in an attempt to save horses that may be injured but are still alive. Hunt said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is also "on standby" to provide assistance if needed.
Tonya Conn of Dumas Rescue reported that volunteers last counted this herd of horses last fall and determined that there were 35 horses in the herd, and she expects it has grown since then. She's part of Big Sandy Free Roaming Horses Task Force.
"I'm just, I'm sick," Conn said. "I am past understanding any reason or rhyme for this," Conn said.
Conn said Pikeville veterinarian Dr. Joey Collins will conduct a field necropsy on a horse this week to determine the cause of deaths.
"It is unbelievable and unnecessary. You can see in the pictures that these horses were running," Conn said. "Horses are herd animals and they will stay together, but they are fight or flight, and they will flight before they fight. They have ran in different directions. They've scattered. They've fallen dead at different directions."
Conn said her rescue group has answered calls about this herd of horses since last year.
"I just wish we could have helped sooner," she said. "Last year we took seven horses that had came off the hill and into Daniels Creek into that community and were wreaking havoc. Of course, horses wreak havoc unintentionally. They were wreaking havoc in that Daniels Creek community and we took seven of those horses from that herd off of that hill to new homes."
A $1,500 reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the killings.
Hunt said he is personally offering a $500 reward, and Conn reported that Dumas Rescue and Lou's Place for Pets in Prestonsburg are also offering $500 each.