For decades, Colleen Gillings has worked to help horses being mistreated, neglected or abused by their owners.
But when the executive director of the Jackson Hole Horse Rescue traveled to James Ridge’s ranch near Fairview last April, even she was unprepared for what she found.
About 30 to 50 horses — stallions, mares and foals — were penned in an unsheltered 50-by-50-foot corral, kicking and fighting each other for the woefully inadequate scraps of food given to them, she said. Some had open sores with maggots in them.
Outside the corral, Gillings said, nearby fields were strewn with horse carcasses, left half-eaten by Ridge’s dogs.
“It was a nightmare,” she said. “I’d never seen suffering from animals like that in my life.”
Ridge will head to trial in Lincoln County Circuit Court on Wednesday in the wake of one of the state’s largest cases of animal cruelty in recent memory. If convicted on all six counts of animal cruelty, he could receive up to three years in jail and a $4,500 fine.
Last May, Wyoming Livestock Board officials and law enforcement raided Ridge’s ranch, seizing 98 horses that he had allegedly neglected and starved for months. Several other horses were in such bad shape that they had to be put down immediately, Livestock Board officials said.
Long before then, Ridge’s neighbors had complained to state officials that he wasn’t properly feeding or taking care of his horses.
In January 2011, Ridge contacted Gillings, saying that he couldn’t afford to feed the animals and asked her organization to help.
For the next few months, Jackson Hole Horse Rescue sent an army of volunteers to Ridge’s ranch and spent thousands of dollars on hay for the animals, she said.
But when Ridge was confronted about changing his treatment of his horses, Gillings said, he staunchly refused. And with market rates for horses comparatively low, she said, he had no interest in selling them.
“He just didn’t want to change how he was treating his animals,” she said. “He just wanted us to feed them.”
Neither Ridge nor his legal counsel, public defender Kent Brown, returned phone calls seeking comment.
The Lincoln County District Attorney’s office declined to discuss why Ridge faced only six counts of animal cruelty on the grounds that the case is still pending.
As for Ridge’s horses, the surviving animals were transported by the Livestock Board to Cheyenne Stockyards, the only available place in the state large enough to handle that many horses.
The Humane Society of the United States paid the approximately $30,000 tab so far for the horses’ food, shelter and medical care, according to Heidi Hopkins, the society’s state director.
Over the next few months, all the horses were sold to new owners, said Livestock Board law enforcement administrator Jimmy Siler.
Gillings said she hopes Ridge’s case will lead state policymakers to craft new laws to crack down on animal hording.
At the same time, she said she doesn’t necessarily think Ridge should go to jail.
“But I don’t think he should own animals anymore,” she said, “because he just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it.”
Star-Tribune staff writer Kelsey Dayton contributed to this story.