Rescuers on Friday removed 24 Morgan horses from a dilapidated farm near Hershey that had been the focus of a raid just two weeks ago.
The rescue team worked around the bodies of dead horses for hours to remove the living ones - many of them pregnant mares, in what officials are describing as the largest seizure in the Harrisburg area in recent years.
It took the 10-person team all day to round up the feral horses from filthy pastures knee-deep in mud and with manure piles almost four feet high.
"It was a hell-hole," said Amy Kaunas, executive director of the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area, which obtained a second search warrant Friday after conditions had not improved from Dec. 28 when five emaciated horses were removed.
"It was pretty horrendous," said Christine Hajek, president and founder of Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, a Mt. Airy, Md. -based large horse rescue, which took 20 of the horses. "The mud, the debris, dangerous broken fencing. None of the horses had been handled."
Kaunas said humane officers reached out to owner Rebecca Roberts on multiple occasions via email and personal visits since the last raid and she did not respond.
She said there was some hay on the ground but overall conditions at the property had not changed since late December.
A two-sided run-in shed was about to collapse and manure was piled as high as the fence. Horses had to wade through thick mud to get to dirty water buckets. The horses had clearly received no veterinary care, no blacksmith care for their feet and some were in need of dental work, said Kaunas.
"Those conditions were not safe," she said. Very young horses pregnant mares and stallions were all roaming together in the same pasture. A nine-month old horse was locked in dark barn by himself, she said.
"We became concerned the situation was not going to change and that these horses would end up like the original ones," said Kaunas.
The bodies of five dead horses, found when humane officers executed the first search warrant last month, had not yet been removed, although one rescuer said the body of a young horse looked like it had only been there a day or two.
Roberts advertised on the web as the operator of Shadowland Morgans, a sport horse breeding farm. The Morgan horse, a breed developed in the 18th century in New England, is known as "the pride and product" of America.
Kaunas said the humane society had received a call about possible horse abuse at the property in May 2010, but when her officers went to the property they were shown five healthy horses in a front field. "There was nothing that we could see that would allow us to get a warrant, she said, adding they did not get any further calls.
She was charged with two counts of cruelty connected with the first seizure when authorities removed five emaciated horses. Kaunas said humane officers are preparing to file additional charges.
Now comes the hard - and expensive - part for rescuers. Hajek and her team of volunteers will begin the process of trying to acclimate the horses to human handlers and put halters on them so they can be examined by a vet.
There may well be a lengthy court battle ahead that could stretch the amount of time these non-profit groups have to care for these horses into many months or years before the horses are released for adoption.
Both groups are seeking donations to help cover the cost of care of the horses. To donate to Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue click here. To donate to Harrisburg Humane click here.
(This blog post has been corrected to reflect the actualy number of horses removed on Friday was 24.)