Monday, June 5, 2023
Sandoval County

Commission to Vote Again on Free-Roaming Horse Feeding Ban

Ban was narrowly defeated in March


After being defeated in a close vote in March, a proposed ordinance that would ban the feeding of free-roaming horses in Sandoval County without a permit will be back up for a vote by the county commission on May 10.

Whether it passes or not may depend on revisions to an accompanying resolution that establishes a permitting process.

While the ordinance covers the whole county, it was first introduced by the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office as a safety measure along NM 165 in Placitas where two horses had to be put down this year after being struck by vehicles. The Sheriff’s Office says that wild horses are attracted to the state highway in search of food because people in the area are feeding them.

The proposed ordinance would make it a crime to feed the free-roaming horses that occupy open space near Placitas punishable by 90 days in jail, a $300 fine, or both.

The proposal to ban feeding the horses has been a hot button issue, especially for people in the Placitas area. While some feel the horses need the nourishment, others say feeding them close to roads has created a safety problem along 165. 

People are allowed to feed their own horses or have someone do it for them, but only non-profit groups could feed the wild horses under a resolution that establishes a permitting process.

The resolution calls for permits to be approved by the Planning and Zoning director pursuant to certain conditions. But only tax-exempt non-profit organizations registered with the IRS that have “demonstrated experience and knowledge in the care of horse management and protection” are eligible for the permit.

At the March 22 meeting when a nearly identical ordinance and resolution was up for vote, Commissioner Michael Meek said he couldn’t support it because he couldn’t go along with the permitting. The resolution then was not specific to non-profit groups.

“I don’t believe we’re ever going to adopt a permit process,” he said at the time.

Commissioner David Heil acknowledged that was a problem that needed to be addressed.

“I’m just concerned a ban on feeding is jumping ahead in terms of a solution,” he said.

Meek said there needed to be a plan before making rules.

“I just think there’s more work to be done to get this to work,” he said.

Commissioner Jay Block also voted against the previous proposal and against taking the matter up again. He said couldn’t support an ordinance that would make it illegal to feed horses on private property.

“It’s just ridiculous. The next thing you know they’re going to come for your gas stoves,” said Block, a Republican who often expresses GOP talking points during meetings (see story page ??).

Commissioners Katherine Bruch and Joshua Jones, both Democrats, voted for the ban.

But the ordinance was revived a few weeks later and the commission voted 4-1 to publish notice on the revised plan on April 12.

Heil hinted then he could support the proposal, if it was attached to a plan.

“When it comes back I’d like to be able to vote yes to whatever we’re going to present to you,” he said.

No public hearings have been held on the issue, but the county has received hundreds of written public comment and hear from supporters and opponents during the public comment portion of commission meetings.

At the last meeting on April 26, two people spoke against the ordinance.

Holding a sign that read “No Feeding Ban,” Kelly Esparza said the ordinance was an example of the government infringing on people’s property rights. Saying that fewer than five horses have been struck and killed on 165 since 2020, Esparza said, “Those numbers do not justify a feeding ban ordinance.”

Jo Johnson said the proposed ordinance wasn’t supported by evidence and that there was no mechanism for enforcement. She criticized the penalty of jail time and/or a fine.

“This criminalizes Sandoval County residents,” she said.

The proposal will be on the agenda for the May 10 meeting of the county commission, which begins at 6 p.m.

The meeting will be held at 1500 Idalia Road, Building D, in Bernalillo. It may also be viewed by following links on the Sandoval County government website:


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