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PRESIDIO, Texas The sheriff s office in Prisido has launched an investigation after receiving complaints of neglect and cruelty in some of the export pens where horses headed to slaughter houses wait before crossing the border.

When horse slaughter houses shut down in Texas in 2007, meat companies shipped the animals to Mexico. The meat is then sold overseas

Now thousands of horses are kept in holding pens on the U.S. side while they wait to cross the border.

The investigation focuses on C-4 Cattle Company on the outskirts of Presidio, a tiny town bordering Ojinaga, Mexico. The pens hold horses before they re sent to slaughter across the border.

The Presidio County Sheriff s Office began the investigation after getting complaints and photographs of dead, dying and injured horses at the C- 4 pens.

Amber Taylor, who founded a horse rescue organizationin Virginia, decided to travel to Texas after seeing photos and hearing the complaints of neglect and cruelty.

The fight down here is not about ending horse slaughter, said Taylor about the export pens. The fight down here is ensuring horses have adequate food and water and attention and care and that they re not hurt or sick before they cross over.

She took her own photographs of extremely thin horses, injured animals and says she saw three dead horses on the property in front of the pens. She also toured the premises with the owner and a sheriff s deputy.

What I was able to see myself, a few of the horses you can tell probably died in the position they were in, said Taylor. A horse who s neck was completely turned around and upside down, it s just not a natural body position for a horse to die in so it really made me feel the horse was probably moved when it was alive.

An employee of a horse trader in Texas who sells slaughter horses also visited the pens to check on the animals condition.

It was absolutely horrific. The most disgusting, awful, sad thing I ve ever seen in my life, said Kyela Oyler, who has photographs of injured and dying horses she took in the C-4 pens.

There were horses down that were lying in mud holes that couldn t get up. You could tell they d been downed for a while, marks where they had fought and tried to get up and couldn t get up.

Oyler said the horses she saw in the C-4 pens did not have enough food or clean water. She photographed water covered in green algae she says was all that was available in those pens.

They d have to chew it before they could swallow. It s disgusting, said Oyler.

The owner of the C-4 export pens, Jim Crenan, said all the horses in his pens get food and water daily.When we stopped by unannounced several weeks after the investigation began, there were large bales of hay at the entrance.

On August 15th, a Presidio County Justice of the Peace ordered the Presidio County Sheriff s office to seize all 352 horses, but keep them at the C-4 pens during the investigation. A couple of days later a different justice of the peace ordered the horses returned to C-4 Cattle Company.

Crenan said the sick, injured horses in the photos are among a group of 28 junky horses dumped on his property in the dark of night and never claimed. It s a set up, said Crenan, who suspects competitors.

Crenan said he notified the local USDA representative about the abandoned animals.

Sheriff s Danny Dominguez said his deputies removed 27 horses from the pens on August 19 that were in pretty bad condition.

Two died but the rest are improving, according to Dominguez. He said if the animals are not claimed they ll be sold at a public auction.

We asked the owner of C- 4 Cattle if we could see the horses that remain in the holding pens. On that day he said he could not authorize it because the horses belong to the meatpacking company. Crenan offered to let us tour the pens at a later date when he was in town.

The Belgian company, Intermeat, which buys the slaughter horses and ships them to Mexico, pays C-4 to provide food and water in the export pens.A representative of the company in Presidio, Enrique Ramos said the horses get good care.

Crenan says Intermeat is responsible for any veterinary services. Several of the photographsshow horses with injuries, including a horse with an open leg wound and another with an infected oozing eye.

The meat company s representative said since the horses are for human consumption, they cannot receive medication. When asked about other vet care, Ramos refused to answer the question and hung up.

The Texas Commission on Environmental quality is investigating a complaint dead horses were dumped in a dry creek bed behind the property. On a recent afternoon with temperature topping 100 degrees, vultures circled overhead.

Crenan says he has not been contacted by investigators about improper disposal of the animals and that about a horse a week dies at the pens.

Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez says for now the investigation remains open. Dominguez said some of the horses were thin and in bad condition, but it s not clear if they arrived that way. So far there s no evidence of neglect or cruelty at the C-4 pens, he said.

But Amber Taylor and others remain concerned about the conditions in Texas pens where the horses spend their last days before heading to slaughter houses in Mexico.

No matter the end, treat them as kindly as they deserve to be treated by law while they re here.

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